Afghan interior minister warns over US withdrawal

Afghanistan’s Interior Minister Masoud Andarabi on Saturday warned against a hasty US retreat from the war-ravaged country, saying the Taliban’s ties to al-Qaida remain intact and that a swift pullout would worsen global counterterrorism efforts. In an interview with The Associated Press at the heavily fortified Interior Ministry, Andarabi said that Afghan National Security Forces backed by US assistance have so far put a squeeze on terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan, including the local Islamic State affiliate. A hasty “uncalculated withdrawal could certainly give an opportunity for those terrorists … to threaten the world,” he said from inside the compound, protected by concrete blast walls, barbed wire and a phalanx of security guards. The warning comes as Washington is reviewing a deal the Trump administration struck with the Taliban over a year ago that calls for the withdrawal of the remaining 2,500 US troops by May 1. That deal also calls for the Taliban to break ties with terrorist groups, like al-Qaida. US officials have previously said some progress has been seen but more was needed, without elaborating. No decisions have been made on the review but US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is trying to jumpstart a stalled peace process between the government and Taliban armed opposition, has warned Afghan President Ashraf Ghani that all options are still on the table, and that he should step up peacemaking efforts. Andarabi challenged Blinken’s prediction last weekend that the withdrawal of US troops would yield territorial gains to the Taliban, saying that Afghan troops could hold territory, but still needed aid and air support to maintain remote checkpoints. Residents of the Afghan capital of Kabul are terrorized by runaway crime, bombings and assassinations. Residents complain bitterly of security failures. Andarabi sympathized with citizens’ complaints, but he said nearly 70% of Afghanistan’s police force is battling the Taliban, eroding efforts to maintain law and order. Every day the police confront over 100 Taliban attacks throughout the country, he added. Even the United Nations Security Council has expressed concern at the targeted killings, aimed at civil society activists, journalists, lawyers and judges. The Islamic State has taken responsibility for many but the Taliban and the government blame each other for the spike in attacks. Andarabi said some progress had been made to stem the violence in the past month, with over 400 arrests. But he underlined that Afghanistan still very much needs continued support from the international community, including the United States and NATO, in both war and peacetime.

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