The U.S. President Donald Trump and Qatari leader Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani have agreed on the importance of the Taliban reducing violence in Afghanistan.
An April 22 statement by the White House said that “the President and the Amir agreed on reducing violence and continuing discussions on prisoner releases.”
The tiny Gulf state of Qatar has assumed prominence in U.S. diplomatic efforts in Afghanistan as it has hosted a Taliban political office in its capital, Doha, since 2013. Washington and the Taliban signed an initial peace agreement in Doha on February 29.
But increasing Taliban violence and disagreements between the Afghan government and the Taliban over prisoner releases now threaten the peace process. The efforts are further complicated by the coronavirus pandemic, which poses a major healthcare and economic threat to Afghanistan. The country of more than 35 million people has fewer intensive care beds while millions of impoverished and displaced Afghans are extremely vulnerable to the health and economic impact of the pandemic.
Senior U.S. officials have repeatedly called on the Taliban to reduce violence. On April 10 General Scott Miller, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, met with the Taliban leaders in Qatar “about the need to reduce the violence," according to a military spokesman. The Taliban managed to enforce a weeklong reduction in violence in February that dramatically reduced violence levels across Afghanistan.
U.S. Forces-Afghanistan “upheld and continues to uphold the military terms of the U.S.-[Taliban] agreement; any assertion otherwise is baseless,” Colonel Sonny Leggett, a spokesman for the Afghan forces tweeted on April. He added that U.S. forces “will defend our ANDSF [Afghan National Defense and Security Forces] partners if attacked, in compliance with the agreement.”
But the Taliban continue to paint any such actions as a violation of their agreement with the United States.
“In continuous violation of agreement, barbaric enemy bombed civilian homes in Band Kuchnak area [of the northeastern] Badakhshan [Province’s] capital Faizabad,” Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, tweeted on April 22.
While Taliban attacks in major Afghan cities have been reduced in recent weeks, fighting between government forces and the insurgents has spiked in the countryside, where the Taliban control large swathes of territories.
Scores of government soldiers, militants, and civilians have been killed in Taliban attacks and government counter-offensives this week.
-- With reporting by Reuters