The Taliban has hinted that Kabul could become a military target should any foreign troops remain in the Afghan capital past the US-led coalition’s withdrawal deadline, as the insurgent group continues to seize more territory.
Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told the BBC that any foreign soldiers who stay behind after the September exit agreement risk being treated as occupiers. He said that, while capturing the Afghan capital was “not Taliban policy,” nothing would be off the table should foreign forces – including military contractors – remain in the capital after the withdrawal was complete.
Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told the BBC that any foreign soldiers who stay behind after the September exit agreement risk being treated as occupiers. He said that, while capturing the Afghan capital was not a policy of the militant group, nothing would be off the table should foreign forces – including military contractors – remain in the capital after the withdrawal was complete. Shaheen warned that the Taliban would respond to a perceived violation of the withdrawal deal, noting that any action taken would be at the discretion of the group’s leadership.
He stressed, however, that the Taliban is not opposed to diplomats and NGO workers remaining in the capital.
The warning comes after the Pentagon signaled that as many as 1,000 US troops could remain in the city to guard embassies and help protect Kabul’s airport. The Taliban may view the plan as a violation of its deal with the US-led coalition, in which foreign forces agreed to leave after nearly 20 years in return for reassurances that Afghanistan would not become a safe haven for terrorists.
US President Joe Biden has vowed to pull all American forces from the war-torn nation by September 11, and the bulk of US forces stationed there have reportedly already left the country. It’s believed the withdrawal could be complete in the coming days. Many of Washington’s NATO allies have already fully exited Afghanistan.
The pullout coincides with a string of Taliban victories against forces loyal to Kabul. In the past two days alone, the group has reportedly captured more than a dozen districts across the country. On Saturday, it seized Panjwai, a key district in Kandahar province that could be used to launch an assault on the provincial capital. It claims it now controls more than 100 of Afghanistan’s nearly 400 districts, although Kabul disputes this figure.
In Washington, the deteriorating military situation in Afghanistan has become a touchy topic. Biden refused to answer questions on Friday about the pullout and the worsening security situation, explaining to reporters that he wanted to talk about “happy things.”
The US may not be the only country at risk of running afoul of the Taliban’s interpretation of the exit deal. According to The Telegraph, the British government is preparing to keep a small special forces contingent in Afghanistan. The elite troops will reportedly be tasked with providing training to Afghan forces and will also serve as advisers during military operations.