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Maas: Hasty US pullout could harm peace talks in Afghanistan

Timothy Jones
November 18, 2020

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas says the hasty withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan could damage a budding peace process. But the Taliban have reportedly welcomed the US decision to reduce military presence.

Bundeswehr soldiers in Afghanistan
Image: picture-.alliance/dpa/M. Gambarini

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Wednesday voiced concern that a planned withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan could have a negative impact on ongoing peace negotiations between Taliban rebels and the government.

"The fact that both sides are now sitting at a negotiating table and have started speaking with one another in constructive fashion after decades of conflict is certainly not to be taken for granted," he said at a press conference in Berlin, responding to a question from DW.

Pointing out that the peace process was still in its infancy, Maas went on to say that there were many hurdles in the way and that "we should not unnecessarily create additional hurdles such as those that would certainly result from a hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan."

Maas also said that Germany was "intensively" examining the consequences for its military personnel in Afghanistan.

"When deciding on our future presence in Afghanistan, we should and must consider the situation on the ground and especially the safety of the soldiers that are there at our behest," he said.

Germany currently has some 1,300 soldiers in the country as part of the NATO-led mission to train and support local security forces.

Read more: Germany's long military mission in Afghanistan

Partial withdrawal

The foreign minister's remarks came after the US military announced on Tuesday that President Donald Trump would reduce the number of US troops by 2,000 by January 15, leaving just 2,500 in the country.

This would negatively impact the NATO mission in Afghanistan, which relies on American troops for transport, air support, logistics and other assistance. A full US withdrawal would likely put an end to the NATO mission, which currently involves 12,000 troops from 30 NATO countries.

Read more: Opinion: US withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq is irresponsible

An ill wind ...

But while NATO has warned that a hasty troop withdrawal by the US could come at a high price, the Taliban has welcomed the announced move.

"It is a good step and in the interest of the people of both countries," Taliban spokesman Zabihulla Mujahid told the Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency, referring to the US and Afghanistan.

"The sooner the foreign forces leave, the more the war will be prevented," he said.

On February 29, the Trump administration signed a deal with the Taliban in which it agreed to pull all foreign forces from the country by May 2021, while the Taliban promised not to attack US forces and prevent jihadi groups like al Qaeda and "Islamic State" from operating in the country. The deal paved the way for the peace talks between the Afghan government and the rebels. However, these talks have now seemingly stalled.

Boost to Taliban?

Observers have expressed concern that an unconsidered departure of US and other foreign troops from Afghanistan could strengthen the Taliban's resolve to win back the country they lost to a US-led invasion in 2001 in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

The chair of Afghanistan's independent Human Rights Commission, Shahar-zad Akbar, told DW that a withdrawal "would actually strengthen the Taliban, at least temporarily," and make the conflict worse.

Read more: Afghanistan: Cutting US troops could put Joe Biden in a tough position

Akbar said that if there were a troop withdrawal without consideration of conditions on the ground, it would reinforce the Taliban's ambition to win by military means.

She also warned that a drawdown would be damaging to any prospects of long-term stability in Afghanistan, which was necessary for the country to be a good ally for both the US and the wider international community.