The U.S.-Taliban peace agreement has been disrupted but not shattered by small-scale attacks that aren’t aimed at American and allied forces, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Wednesday.
“The Taliban are honoring their piece” of the accord signed on Saturday in Doha “in terms of not attacking U.S., and coalition forces but not in terms of sustaining a reduction of violence,” Esper told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
In spite of the attacks, Esper said, “the critical thing in the next two days will be getting the conditions set for talks” between the Taliban and the Afghan government, which was excluded from the negotiations with the U.S. at the insistence of the Taliban.
The accord provides for the U.S. and allies to start withdrawing troops after 19 years of war in return for a Taliban pledge to prevent terrorist groups such as Islamic State and al-Qaeda from using Afghanistan as a haven.
General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate committee that the last two days brought “a variety of attacks” against Afghan military outposts by the Taliban that “were all beaten back” by U.S. airpower.
President Donald Trump spoke by phone on Tuesday with a top Taliban leader in what he called “a good conversation” where “we’ve agreed there’s no violence.” But hours later the U.S. conducted an airstrike against the group as it was attacking Afghan forces in Helmand province.
There have been “small, low-level attacks at checkpoints,” Milley said Wednesday. But the Taliban have signed up to “a whole laundry list” of restrictions that still stand, he said.
Milley revealed elements from the classified accord that have been provided to members of Congress, including no “high-profile attacks” in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, or other major cities and no suicide bombings.
The Taliban leadership has been able to bring a reduction “from a high of about 125 attacks a day down to about 15 a day” recently, he said.
Esper said the Taliban leaders are “wrestling with” the assortment of hard- and soft-liners within their ranks.