The Taliban has accused the U.S military of repeatedly violating the peace deal signed between the two sides in Doha in February, and warned that Washington, D.C., must shoulder the blame for subsequent violence.
Taliban spokesperson Qari Muhammad Yousuf Ahmadi issued a statement Sunday condemning recent American airstrikes on militants in Afghanistan’s Helmand province and threatening retaliation.
Violence in Afghanistan has continued despite the February peace deal between the U.S. and the Taliban. Talks are ongoing between the Afghan government and the Taliban, though President Donald Trump has nonetheless pushed ahead with a planned withdrawal from the country.
The U.S. conducted several airstrikes against Taliban targets in Helmand last week in support of Afghan government forces. Colonel Sonny Leggett, the spokesperson for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said the missions were to defend under-attack Afghan troops and did not violate the Doha agreement.
But Ahmadi said Sunday the action was unacceptable. “American forces have violated the Doha agreement in various forms by carrying out excessive airstrikes following the new developments in Helmand province,” he said in the Taliban statement.
“According to the Doha agreement, the American forces are prohibited from carrying out airstrikes or targeting anyone in areas other than combat zones or during active fighting,” he added, noting U.S. strikes in multiple locations.
“All contents of the U.S.-Islamic Emirate agreement are unambiguous, but the opposite side has violated its commitments on numerous occasions, are engaging in provocative actions and bombing non-combat zones,” Ahmadi added, using the former name of the country when it was under Taliban rule—the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
“All responsibility and consequences from continuation of such actions shall fall squarely on the shoulders of the American side,” Ahmadi said.
Leggett later responded to the statement on Twitter. “We categorically reject the Taliban’s claim the United States has violated the U.S.-Taliban Agreement,” he wrote. “U.S. airstrikes in Helmand and Farah have been and continue to be solely in defense of the ANDSF as they are being attacked by the Taliban.”
“The entire world has witnessed the Taliban’s offensive operations in Helmand– attacks which injured and displaced thousands of innocent Afghan civilians. We reiterate our call for ALL SIDES to reduce the violence to allow the political process to take hold.”
General Scott Miller—commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan—meanwhile urged the Taliban to stop offensive operations against government troops. Despite the February peace deal and ongoing inter-Afghan talks, the Taliban have launched multiple operations around the country in recent months.
“The Taliban need to immediately stop their offensive actions in Helmand Province and reduce their violence around the country,” Miller said in a statement tweeted out by Leggett. “It is not consistent with the US-Taliban agreement and undermines the ongoing Afghan Peace Talks.”
Despite the violence, Trump prompted confusion when he tweeted last week: “We should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas.”
National security adviser Robert O’Brien later said Trump’s message was a wish rather than a commitment. “I think what the president was doing is, he was expressing the same desire I think every president since the Revolutionary War has said,” O’Brien said.
“Whenever we’re at war, whether it was the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War I or World War II, all presidents… want the troops home by Christmas.” O’Brien said the U.S. would aim to cut its Afghan deployment to 2,500 by early in 2021.
This was at odds with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley, who said recently that the Pentagon will cut its Afghan footprint to 4,500 troops in November, but that any talk of further cuts would be “speculation.”
This article has been updated to include further comment from Colonel Sonny Leggett.