WASHINGTON: In a rare briefing on Thursday, the top U.S. military officer urged the Taliban to curb bloodshed as outgoing President Donald Trump tries to hasten the conclusion of the nearly 20-year conflict.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen Mark Milley, met with leaders of the Taliban in Qatar and with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul.
It was only the second time that the top U.S. general had met with the Taliban, which the U.S. military had unsuccessfully attempted to defeat in combat, even though Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had met with insurgents in Qatar as well.
Gen Milley “discussed in his talks with the Taliban the need for an immediate reduction of violence and to) accelerate progress towards a negotiated political solution that contributes to regional stability and protects the national interests of the United States,” said Commander Sarah Flaherty, Spokeswoman.
Milley assured him in his meeting with President Ghani that the U.S. remains fully committed to helping Afghans create a safe and stable Afghanistan,” Flaherty said.
The United States initiated a withdrawal by May next year under a Feb 29 deal concluded in Doha, and the Taliban promised not to let Afghanistan be exploited by militants, the original justification for the US intervention after the attacks of Sept 11, 2001.
Since then the Taliban have fired on US soldiers, but not on Afghan forces, with fighting increasing in recent weeks, even as insurgents meet with leaders of Qatar’s internationally recognised government. The militants view the government of Kabul as unconstitutional.
Attacks at Kabul University also seen a shooting spree inside classrooms.
The jihadist radical Islamic State movement claimed responsibility, but the Haqqani network, a branch of the Taliban that US officials say has links with Pakistan, is blamed by the authorities.
Modicum of success
The journey of Milley arrives as Trump attempts to fulfil his vows to stop “endless wars” in Afghanistan and Iraq.
By January 15, five days before he handed over to President-elect Joe Biden, Trump had requested a cut to only 2,500 soldiers.
A year earlier, the US military had around 13,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, and as of last month, it had cut the level to 4,500.
In the wake of the peace negotiations, the Pentagon was willing to retain 4,500 forces in Afghanistan in the new year but officials insist the military is compliant with Trump’s directive.
Earlier this month, Gen Milley recognised what US politicians have been gradually suggesting across the political spectrum, that there is nothing else to achieve from the fight.