US says 'all options open' on Afghanistan troop withdrawal
In a letter sent to Afghan president Ashraf Ghani, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for a new UN-led peace effort, and added that they were "considering the full withdrawal of forces by 1 May as we consider other options".
The letter was sent to the Afghan president and Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the peace council. The letter's contents were discussed during recent meetings with US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who visited Kabul last week.
While not acknowledging the full contents of the letter, a spokeswoman for the State Department did confirm that the US has "not made any decisions about our force posture in Afghanistan after 1 May. All options remain on the table".
The letter stated that the US is seeking to use high-level diplomatic means "to move matters more fundamentally and quickly toward a settlement and a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire", according to Reuters.
The letter said that the US would use the UN to call the foreign ministers and envoys from Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, India and US "to discuss a unified approach to supporting peace in Afghanistan", in addition to calls for Turkey to host a senior meeting between "both sides in the coming weeks to finalise a peace agreement".
In his letter, Blinken laid out fears that "the security situation will worsen and that the Taliban could make rapid territorial gains", if the US were to withdraw from the country.
Ongoing negotiations in Doha between the Afghan government and the Taliban have stalled of late amid suggestions that the US will not withdraw its forces on 1 May, as laid out in the original peace agreement.
Simultaneously, the Afghan capital has witnessed a surge in violence, for which the Taliban has been blamed.
"We have prepared a revised proposal for a 90-day Reduction-in-Violence, which is intended to prevent a Spring Offensive by the Taliban and to coincide with our diplomatic efforts to support a political settlement between the parties," wrote Blinken.
On Saturday, the Afghan president said that his government was open to discussions regarding new elections, as a means of pushing the peace talks forward.
The idea of an interim government was put forward during the recent visit of Khalilzad, but was opposed by Ghani, who said that any new government should be formed through elections.
The Taliban confirmed that they had received a proposed draft for the peace plan and were currently reviewing it.