US commander paints grim picture of Taliban peace deal


WASHINGTON (AP) – The top U.S. commander for the Middle East painted a grim picture of the peace process with the Taliban in Afghanistan, saying the current level of attacks is higher than allowed in the plan and he has no confidence the group will honor its commitments.

Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie told the House Armed Services Committee that he has plans to cut the number of troops to 8,600 by the summer, but so far the U.S. “has not developed military plans” for the full withdrawal in 14 months that is called for in the peace plan.

“To date, Taliban attacks are higher than we believe are consistent with an idea to actually carry out this plan,” McKenzie said. “If they’re unable to draw down the current level of attacks, then the political leadership will be able to make decisions based on that.”

He added that his optimism or pessimism about the future doesn’t matter because any decisions will be based on facts and what happens on the ground.

The United States has begun withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, taking a step forward on its peace deal with the Taliban. And Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s promised on Monday to start releasing Taliban prisoners after he had delayed any move on that for over a week.

The U.S.-Taliban deal signed Feb. 29 was touted as Washington’s effort to end 18 years of war in Afghanistan. The next crucial step was to be intra-Afghan talks in which all factions including the Taliban would negotiate a road map for their country’s future.

Washington’s peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad attends the inauguration ceremony for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, March 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)