US President Joe Biden faces “serious dilemmas” in Afghanistan as a deadline to withdraw troops nears and the Taliban show no sign of ending their bloodshed, a top US official warned.
The new US President has ordered a review of the deal Washington cut with the Taliban last year, which promised the withdrawal of all foreign forces by May 1 in return for security guarantees from the militants and a commitment to peace talks with the Afghan government.
The talks are progressing painfully slowly, but scarcely a day goes by without a bomb blast, attack on government forces, or a targeted assassination somewhere in the country.
“Violence level remains very, very high… which is shocking and deeply disappointing,” a senior US State Department official told AFP this week on condition of anonymity.
“It is unquestionably damaging the atmosphere for any kind of a settlement of Afghanistan’s conflict.”
The Taliban routinely deny responsibility for the attacks — and many are claimed by the Islamic State — but Washington has no doubt who is to blame.
“In our view, the Taliban are responsible for the vast majority of the targeted killings that we have seen,” the official said, adding they had created “an ecosystem of violence”.
“It is clearly intended, I think, to demoralise citizens… to add to doubts that people have about their government and to add to the aura of inevitability of (a Taliban) victory,” he added.
Any risk to the lives of “American and coalition forces… is going to be very, very high on our priorities”, the US official warned.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has urged Biden to avoid rushing the withdrawal, and wants the new US President to put more pressure on the Taliban to make concessions at ongoing peace talks in Doha, Qatar.
“The Islamic Republic (government) side is anxious and ready to negotiate. They went to Doha prepared… and they got nobody to meet with and that’s disappointing,” the US official said.
The Taliban were winning few friends with its approach, he added.