The US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation warned on Monday that increasing attacks by the Taliban could undermine the historic peace deal signed between Washington and the militant group in February.
Zalmay Khalilzad also said the strikes could derail the ongoing intra-Afghan talks in Doha, Qatar, that look to end the protracted conflict in the country.
“Continued high levels of violence can threaten the peace process and the agreement, and the core understanding that there is no military solution. Violence today remains distressingly high in spite of the recent reaffirmation of the need for a substantial reduction,” he said in tweets on Monday.
Since last week, the Taliban have unleashed a series of attacks in parts of Afghanistan, particularly in the southern Helmand province, where more than 35,000 people have been displaced over recent days, Afghan officials told Arab News.
In response, US forces in the country launched several airstrikes on Taliban positions, which the insurgent group described as a breach of the February accord on Sunday.
Responding to the Taliban’s accusations, Khalilzad said they were “unfounded charges of violations and inflammatory rhetoric,” and “do not advance peace.”
Washington also accused the Taliban of breaking the historic agreement, which, among other things, looks to finalize a complete withdrawal of US-led troops from the country.
Khalilzad said the airstrikes were conducted to support Afghan troops as part of Washington’s commitment to defend them, if necessary.
He added that the Taliban attacks in Helmand, including some in the provincial capital that targeted Afghan security forces, led to a recent meeting in Doha where both sides agreed to “decrease attacks and strikes.” And while levels of violence in Helmand have fallen, it “remains high” across the country, the Afghan-born diplomat added.
Some Afghan observers said the motive behind Taliban attacks was to gain an “upper hand” in negotiations.
However, Khalilzad warned of the risks involved in using this strategy.
“The belief that says violence must escalate to win concessions at the negotiations table is risky. Such an approach can undermine the peace process and repeats past miscalculation by Afghan leaders,” he said, urging all sides to honor the “historic opportunity for peace, which must not be missed.”
Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, told Arab News on Monday that the group had “no comment” on Khalilzad’s statements and that US forces had “violated the Doha agreement in various forms by carrying out excessive airstrikes.”
Mujahid added that he had “no information” on the state of attacks in Helmand province.
However, Omar Zwak, a spokesman for Helmand’s governor, told Arab News that “fighting subsided in various parts of Helmand” over the past two days.
Meanwhile, an anonymous senior official in President Ashraf Ghani’s government praised Khalilzad for “beginning to get realistic” and “breaking silence over repeated Taliban attacks.”
Another figure, Kabul-based lawmaker Fawzia Zaki, said: “The government and Afghan people, in general, insisted on enforcement of a cease-fire or a drastic reduction of violence before the beginning of the intra-Afghan dialogue.”
For it to be effective, Khalilzad and Washington “need to exert growing pressure to make them listen to the righteous demands of ours,” Zaki added.
However, experts have warned of the “growing impatience” of both sides.
Shafiq Haqpal, an analyst, told Arab News: “Khalilzad’s comments clearly show that Washington is becoming impatient with Taliban attacks and the lack of progress in the talks.”
He said that US President Donald Trump is “hoping to see a breakthrough soon,” so that he can “portray it as a success of his administration for his re-election campaign.
“But that is not happening. Maybe Washington has realized that won’t happen, so they are beginning to come out and warn the Taliban against the consequences of their attacks,” Haqpal added.