Afghanistan: All foreign troops must leave by deadline - Taliban

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Media caption,

"US forces remaining would violate Doha agreement" - Taliban

Any foreign troops left in Afghanistan after Nato's September withdrawal deadline will be at risk as occupiers, the Taliban has told the BBC.

It comes amid reports that 1,000 mainly US troops could remain on the ground to protect diplomatic missions and Kabul's international airport.

Nato's 20-year military mission in Afghanistan has all but ended.

But violence in the country continues to rise, with the Taliban taking more territory.

Under a deal with the militant group, the US and its Nato allies agreed to withdraw all troops in return for a commitment by the Taliban not to allow al-Qaeda or any other extremist group to operate in the areas they control.

President Joe Biden set a deadline of 11 September - the 20-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the US - for American troops to fully withdraw, but reports suggest the pullout may be complete within days.

As Afghan forces prepare to take charge of security alone, concern is growing for the future of Kabul.

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said seizing Kabul militarily was "not Taliban policy".

But speaking to the BBC from the group's office in Qatar, he said no foreign forces - including military contractors - should remain in the city after the withdrawal was complete.

"If they leave behind their forces against the Doha agreement then in that case it will be the decision of our leadership how we proceed," Mr Shaheen told the BBC.

"We would react and the final decision is with our leadership," he added.

Diplomats, NGOs and other foreign civilians would not be targeted by the Taliban, he insisted, and no ongoing protection force for them was needed.

"We are against the foreign military forces, not diplomats, NGOs and workers and NGOs functioning and embassies functioning - that is something our people need. We will not pose any threat to them," he said.

Mr Shaheen described last week's withdrawal from Bagram Airfield - once the largest US military base in Afghanistan - as a "historic moment".

But Farzana Kochai, a female MP, said the withdrawal was being carried out irresponsibly.

Afghan government spokesman Razwan Murad told the BBC that the government was ready for talks and a ceasefire and the Taliban should now prove that they were committed to peace.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Some armed men have pledged to support the Afghan army in defending Kabul against the Taliban

Mr Shaheen denied that the militant group had played any part in the recent uptick in violence.

He insisted that many districts had fallen to the Taliban through mediation after Afghan soldiers refused to fight.

On Sunday, the Taliban captured another area in southern Kandahar province. The militants say they now control about a quarter of the country's nearly 400 districts.

The Taliban spokesman described the current government as "moribund" and referred to the country as the "Islamic emirate" - an indication that the group envisaged a theocratic basis for governing the country and were unlikely to agree to Afghan government demands for elections.

Mr Shaheen said elections had so far not been raised in negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

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From May 2021: Top US commander General Scott Miller reflects on Nato forces' time in Afghanistan ahead of its departure

US-led forces ousted the Taliban from power in Afghanistan in October 2001. The group had been harbouring Osama Bin Laden and other al-Qaeda figures linked to the 9/11 attacks in the US.

President Biden has said the American pull-out is justified as US forces have made sure Afghanistan cannot become a base for foreign jihadists to plot against the West again.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, meanwhile, insists that the country's security forces are fully capable of keeping insurgents at bay, but many believe the withdrawal risks casting the country back into the grip of the Taliban.

Twenty years of conflict in Afghanistan – what happened when?

From 9/11, to intense fighting on the ground, and now full withdrawal of US-led forces, here’s what happened.

9/11

Al-Qaeda, led by Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan, carries out the largest terror attack ever conducted on US soil.

The World Trade Centre is reduced to rubble
Image caption The World Trade Centre is reduced to rubble Image copyright by Getty

Four commercial airliners are hijacked. Two are flown into the World Trade Centre in New York, which collapses. One hits the Pentagon building in Washington, and one crashes into a field in Pennsylvania. Nearly 3,000 people are killed.

First air strikes

A US-led coalition bombs Taliban and al-Qaeda facilities in Afghanistan. Targets include Kabul, Kandahar and Jalalabad.

The Taliban, who took power after a decade-long Soviet occupation was followed by civil war, refuse to hand over Bin Laden. Their air defences and small fleet of fighter aircraft are destroyed.

Fall of Kabul

The Northern Alliance, a group of anti-Taliban rebels backed by coalition forces, enters Kabul as the Taliban flee the city.

Coalition-backed Northern Alliance fighters ride tanks into Kabul as the Taliban retreat
Image caption Coalition-backed Northern Alliance fighters ride tanks into Kabul as the Taliban retreat Image copyright by Getty

By the 13 November 2001, all Taliban have either fled or been neutralised. Other cities quickly fall.

New constitution

After protracted negotiations at a “loya jirga” or grand assembly, the new Afghan constitution is signed into law. The constitution paves the way for presidential elections in October 2004.

Hamid Karzai becomes president

Hamid Karzai led anti-Taliban groups around Kandahar before becoming president
Image caption Hamid Karzai led anti-Taliban groups around Kandahar before becoming president Image copyright by Getty

Hamid Karzai, the leader of the Popalzai Durrani tribe, becomes the first president under the new constitution. He serves two five-year terms as president.

UK troops deployed to Helmand

British troops arrive in Helmand province, a Taliban stronghold in the south of the country.

Soldiers of the Parachute Regiment lead the first UK deployment to Helmand
Image caption Soldiers of the Parachute Regiment lead the first UK deployment to Helmand Image copyright by Getty

Their initial mission is to support reconstruction projects, but they are quickly drawn into combat operations. More than 450 British troops lose their lives in Afghanistan over the course of the conflict.

Obama’s surge

US President Barack Obama approves a major increase in the number of troops sent to Afghanistan. At their peak, they number about 140,000.

US troops in intense combat operations in the south of the country
Image caption US troops in intense combat operations in the south of the country Image copyright by Getty

The so-called “surge” is modelled on US strategy in Iraq where US forces focussed on protecting the civilian population as well as killing insurgent fighters.

Osama Bin Laden killed

Bin Laden is traced to a compound located less than a mile from a Pakistani military academy
Image caption Bin Laden is traced to a compound located less than a mile from a Pakistani military academy Image copyright by Getty

The leader of al-Qaeda is killed in an assault by US Navy Seals on a compound in Abbottabad in Pakistan. Bin Laden’s body is removed and buried at sea. The operation ends a 10-year hunt led by the CIA.  The confirmation that Bin Laden had been living on Pakistani soil fuels accusations in the US that Pakistan is an unreliable ally in the war on terror.

Death of Mullah Omar

The founder of the Taliban, Mullah Mohammed Omar, dies. His death is kept secret for more than two years.

The Taliban leader is believed to have suffered a shrapnel wound to his right eye in the 1980s
Image caption The Taliban leader is believed to have suffered a shrapnel wound to his right eye in the 1980s Image copyright by EPA

According to Afghan intelligence, Mullah Omar dies of health problems at a hospital in the Pakistani city of Karachi. Pakistan denies that he was in the country.

Nato ends combat operations

At a ceremony in Kabul, Nato ends its combat operations in Afghanistan. With the surge now over, the US withdraws thousands of troops.  Most of those who remain focus on training and supporting the Afghan security forces.

Taliban resurgence

The Taliban launch a series of suicide attacks, car bombings and other assaults. The parliament building in Kabul, and the city of Kunduz are attacked. Islamic State militants begin operations in Afghanistan.

Kabul's international airport is struck on 10 August 2015
Image caption Kabul's international airport is struck on 10 August 2015 Image copyright by Getty

Death toll announcement

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani says more than 45,000 members of his country’s security forces have been killed since he became leader in 2014. The figure is far higher than previously thought.

US signs deal with Taliban

The US and the Taliban sign an “agreement for bringing peace” to Afghanistan, in Doha, Qatar. The US and Nato allies agree to withdraw all troops within 14 months if the militants uphold the deal.

The deal lays out a timetable for full withdrawal
Image caption The deal lays out a timetable for full withdrawal Image copyright by Getty

Date for final withdrawal

US president Joe Biden announces that all US troops will leave Afghanistan by 11 September 2021.

Taliban return to power

In just over a month, the Taliban sweep across Afghanistan, taking control of towns and cities all over the country, including Kabul. Afghan security forces collapse in the face of the Taliban advance.

Taliban fighters face little opposition from Afghan security forces
Image caption Taliban fighters face little opposition from Afghan security forces Image copyright by Getty