New Delhi (NVI): Two former US defence officials have said that they would advise President Joe Biden against pulling all the troops from Afghanistan, despite a looming May 1 deadline for the US to withdraw its remaining 2,500 troops.
Former US president Donald Trump’s last defense secretary Mark Esper and former president Barack Obama’s first defense secretary Robert Gates have recommended a longer presence if US troops in Afghanistan, as per the Washington Examiner report.
In an interview to the US publication, Mark Esper, who was fired by Trump shortly after the November election for insufficient fealty, said the withdrawal deal negotiated with the Taliban a year ago was always dependent on conditions that the Taliban clearly have not met.
“We implemented our side of it in good faith, but it’s fair to say the Taliban have not,” Esper was quoted as saying by TOLO News. In the interview, Esper noted that the Taliban have not delivered on any of their key promises, namely a reduction in violence, good faith negotiations with the Afghan government, and a full break with al Qaeda.
The former US defence secretary said he would have opposed Trump’s post-election order to reduce US troop strength in Afghanistan to 2,500, which he says has effectively undercut any leverage the US had over the Taliban. “I made this clear when I was in the administration at the end, I thought we should hold it 4,500 until the conditions on the ground were met,” he said.
“We have to make sure that again, Afghanistan doesn’t become a safe haven for terrorism. And I say that as somebody who wants to get out of there as badly as anyone else,” Esper was quoted as saying by TOLO News.
The other former US official, Robert Gates said that Taliban has to understand that it cannot just take all the marbles once the US troops leave.
“My view is that I think the steps the president has taken in terms of hinting that we might not pull the rest of our troops out on the first of May is exactly right. I think that we do need to take into consideration the possibility of having a presence in Afghanistan at roughly the current level, or maybe even slightly more, along with our NATO allies,” Gates told the Washington Post in an interview.
He said the longer presence of forces in Afghanistan should be able to make the Taliban realise that they can’t violate the terms of the peace deal once US withdraws its troops completely.
On Sunday, Taliban had demanded that the United States and its foreign military allies leave Afghanistan by May 1, in line with a peace agreement the group signed with the US Government (under Trump’s tenure) a year ago, while warning that any attempt to change the path “is already doomed to failure.”