New U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has made his first contact as Pentagon chief with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
The presidential press office said in a statement that President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani had a telephone conversation with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to discuss bilateral relations and recent developments in the Afghan peace process.
Austin reportedly told Ghani that the new U.S. administration is committed to a lasting peace that benefits Afghans and leads to a durable cease-fire.
The two also expressed concern about the escalation of violence and targeted attacks in Kabul, he said. a statement from the Afghan president’s press office said.
In the Feb. 29, 2020, agreement, the Taliban had pledged to significantly reduce violence in Afghanistan and not give sanctuary to al Qaeda and other extremist organizations. In return, former President Donald Trump’s administration pledged a complete troop withdrawal by May 2021.
Now facing an increase in assassinations and attacks, Washington wants to check whether the Taliban are abiding by the joint agreement. This, he said, is what security adviser Jake Sullivan told his Afghan counterpart.
If the U.S. does not withdraw by May at the latest, the militants would continue their fight, Taliban announced.
Doha peace talks between the Afghan republic and the Taliban, underway since mid-September 2020, have stalled, according to media. The Taliban continue to reject a ceasefire.
by Jeremy Abbott – American Correspondent – WPN