A new report released by the Afghanistan Study Group has concluded that removing U.S. troops will lead to a civil war in Afghanistan. The group suggests changing the date, currently set for May 1 this year. “A precipitous U.S. withdrawal is likely to exacerbate the conflict, provoking a wider civil war,” the report reads. It also warns that “A withdrawal would not only leave America more vulnerable to terrorist threats; it would also have catastrophic effects in Afghanistan and the region that would not be in the interest of any of the key actors, including the Taliban.”
The Afghanistan Study Group is mandated by the U.S. Congress and led by former Senator Kelly Ayote and General Joseph Dunford. The group of experts and former U.S. leaders were charged with the examination the Doha Agreement, signed by the U.S. and Taliban leadership in Doha in February of 2020. Over a period of ten months, the group examined the situation in Afghanistan and concluded that the “possibility of civil war is high in the wake of a precipitous troop withdrawal.”
At the launch of the report, co-chair of the group, General Joseph Dunford said, “We believe that the U.S. withdrawal will provide an opportunity to the terrorists to reconstitute and in our judgement that reconstitution will take about 18-36 months.” The group suggests that the withdrawal be linked to Taliban adherence to the agreements and a reduction in violence, not a deadline set in the Doha Agreement.
General Dunford stated that, “We don’t believe that the Taliban are meeting the conditionality of the Feb. 2020 agreement.” He said that the group examined the conditionality in three areas, “One, the progress towards a peace agreement; secondly, a genuine broad reduction in violence; third, to demonstrate the will and capacity to prevent Al-Qaeda and ISIS from using Afghanistan as a platform for terrorism.”
The third point has been supported by reports from the UN and a recent US Treasury report that highlighted the continued relationship between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda and the benefits that the Taliban derives from that relationship. The Treasury Department wrote in their report that “Al-Qaeda is gaining strength in Afghanistan while continuing to operate with the Taliban under the Taliban protection.”
The Study Group advocated strongly for a renewed diplomatic engagement in Afghanistan, highlighting regional roles, and saying that “a responsible withdrawal of U.S. troops will demonstrate America’s fidelity to its foreign policy objectives and the benefits of diplomatic engagement.”
While the intra-Afghan peace talks have been on hold for the past month, on several occasions the Taliban has warned that if U.S. troops are not withdrawn by May 1, they will further increase the violence inside the country and renew attacks on the U.S. and NATO troops as well. Based on the agreement between the US and the Taliban, the Taliban avoided targeting international troops but has increased its attacks on the Afghan security forces as well as the Afghan people.
In speaking with members of civil society and the media, the Afghan government and its delegation in Doha criticized the Taliban for not attending the peace talks. Since news of the review of the agreement was announced by the Biden administration, Taliban leaders have traveled to Russia, Iran, and Pakistan and have been meeting with the leadership of these countries. The Afghan government’s delegation says they have been waiting for the Taliban negotiators to return to Doha to resume the process.
In January, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the Biden administration will review and assess the agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban. While the review is underway, intra-Afghan peace talks are on hold in Doha. Many Afghans and allies await a renewed direction in the Afghan peace talks.