Continued Taliban attacks across Afghanistan “could undermine the agreement” the insurgent group struck with the Trump administration earlier this year, U.S. military officials told a key Pentagon watchdog.
In its regular quarterly report to Congress released Thursday, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said that enemy-initiated attacks in Afghanistan grew by 50% in the July-September window when compared to the previous quarter. Some recent attacks in areas such as Helmand province have led to major U.S. airstrikes in support of Afghan national security forces.
“It could undermine the agreement,” Pentagon officials told SIGAR, according to the report.
The deal, struck in February, called for a reduction in violence across the country but did not require a full ceasefire. Against that backdrop, SIGAR said that the Taliban “is calibrating its use of violence to harass and undermine” the Afghan government but also is intentionally keeping its attacks “at a level it perceives is within the bounds” of the agreement.
Indeed, the administration continues to hold up its end of the bargain despite the growing conflict across Afghanistan. The number of U.S. troops in the country, which stood at about 12,000 when the deal was signed in February, is dropping and will be down to 2,500 by early next year, administration officials have said.
The deal also required the Taliban to cease attacks on Americans stationed in the country. SIGAR said it asked U.S. Forces-Afghanistan whether there have been any suspected Taliban attacks on Americans.
“The question drew a classified response,” SIGAR said.
In exchange for the U.S. troop withdrawals, the Taliban agreed to never again allow Afghanistan to become a safe haven for terrorist groups such as al Qaeda. The group also agreed to begin negotiations with the U.S.-backed government in Kabul.
Those talks are ongoing despite daily military clashes between the two sides.
American forces have been in Afghanistan since October 2001, when then-President George W. Bush ordered a military invasion to topple the Taliban government and root out al Qaeda after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
President Trump has dubbed the conflict an “endless war” and has vowed to bring U.S. forces home after nearly two decades in the country.