KABUL (Dispatches) – Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen has told Al Jazeera in an exclusive interview that they have the “right to react” if the United States still keeps troops in Afghanistan after September 11, when the withdrawal is due to complete.
U.S. officials told The Associated Press news agency on Thursday that roughly 650 U.S. troops were expected to remain in Afghanistan to allegedly provide security for diplomats after Washington pulled its forces out to end its 20-year occupation of the country.
Reacting to the report, Shaheen told Al Jazeera’s Osama bin Javaid in Doha that if the U.S. did so, it would be in breach of an agreement aimed at ending the U.S.’s longest war that was struck between Washington and the Taliban in the Qatari capital in February 2020.
“We have signed the Doha agreement and that was negotiated with the American side for 18 months. They have agreed and committed themselves that they will withdraw from Afghanistan all their military forces, advisers and contractors,” Shaheen said.
“I think it is a clear violation of that agreement,” he added.
“If they stay here, then I think it is a kind of continuation of the occupation. They have violated and we fully have the right to react,” Shaheen said.
Biden has announced that Washington would withdraw troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11.
The U.S. invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 under the pretext of the so-called war against terror.
Washington has spent more than trillions of dollars waging war on the impoverished country, which has left thousands of Afghan civilians and American troops dead.
The U.S. military is nearing the end of pulling the roughly 3,500 remaining troops from Afghanistan.
Under a February 2020 “peace” deal between the Taliban and the Trump administration, Washington vowed to withdraw all 2,500 U.S. troops remaining in Afghanistan. In return, the Taliban pledged to stop attacks on US troops.
The Taliban have said the United States has breached its agreement with the group for the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The head of Afghanistan’s peace council said on Friday that long-stalled talks on a political settlement to decades of strife should not be abandoned despite surging attacks, unless the militants themselves pull out.
“I think we shouldn’t shut the door unless it’s completely shut by the Taliban,” Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, told Reuters in an interview. “We can’t say no to talks despite a lack of progress or in spite of what’s happening on the ground.”
Abdullah spoke after he and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani met U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House for talks on U.S. military pullout.
The former political rivals’ two-day visit, which included meetings with lawmakers from both parties and the Pentagon leadership, came at a time of surging violence across Afghanistan as government forces struggle to beat back Taliban advances.