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US Defense Secretary: Afghanistan Peace Process 'Behind Schedule'

By Carla Babb May 04, 2020

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper says the peace process in Afghanistan is not going as quickly as expected, with the Taliban failing to reduce violence in the war-torn country.

"It's behind schedule," Esper said at a Brookings Institute event on Monday. "We continue to talk to both sides about what they need to do to fully implement the agreement."

Officials had cautiously hoped a peace deal signed in February by the United States and the Taliban would lead to intra-Afghan negotiations that could serve as a new foundation of peace for a country plagued by more than 18 consecutive years of war.

Those intra-Aghan peace efforts stalled, however, as President Ashraf Ghani and the country's chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah, have continued their political battle for power.

While the Taliban has kept its word on not attacking international forces, according to Esper, attacks from the Taliban against Afghan government forces have increased.

"There has not been a reduction in violence, if you will, from the Taliban side," Esper said at a Brookings Institute event Monday. "On the other hand, they have not attacked us or attacked major metropolitan areas."

Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said Friday the "unacceptably high" number of attacks by the Taliban was "not conducive to a diplomatic solution."

Airstrike reports

The comments come as U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) astounded reporters Monday with a statement that its Air Force component would no longer be providing regular updates on the number of airstrikes in the Middle East theater, to include Afghanistan.

Cmdr. Zachary Harrell, a CENTCOM spokesman, said the change was due to "diplomatic relational concerns, including how the report could adversely impact ongoing discussions with the Taliban regarding Afghanistan peace talks."

"Until such time that this product is determined not be a risk at possibly jeopardizing current relations, the Air Power Summary will not be published," added Harrell.

The command's Air Force component has posted monthly airpower updates online since at least 2013.

The updates have included monthly sortie and strike totals for coalition aircraft in Iraq and Syria since Operation Inherent Resolve began against Islamic State in 2014. That, too, will no longer be provided due to the change.

The last summary of Iraq and Syria strike numbers was posted in February, which was the same month that the U.S. and Taliban peace deal was signed.

The quarterly Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) recently sounded the alarm on the lack of transparency from the U.S.-led international mission in Afghanistan, stating in its report last week that Resolute Support was no longer providing the number of Taliban-initiated attacks.

SIGAR called the Taliban attack numbers "one of the last remaining metrics" of stability and security.

Hoffman said the attack numbers have not been classified and will be released at a future date.

Jeff Seldin contributed to this report from Washington.

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