Taliban fighters have protected NATO and US bases in Afghanistan from attacks by a rival or rogue Islamic extremist groups for over a year under a secrete annex to an agreement for withdrawal of all U.S troops by May first, three Western officials told Reuters.
Reuters reported that U.S State Department gave no immediate response and comment over the existence of any such document or pact signed, but the deal was described as “Taliban ring of protection”, and The Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid also declined to talk on this matter with Reuters.
According to Reuters, following the US-Taliban deal in February 2020, which provided the opportunity for America to end its longest war, there have been no U.S combat deaths, and only isolated attacks on US bases were reported.
Despite the peace deal, Taliban attacks on Afghan government forces and civilians have intensified, and casualties have spiraled in the meantime.
Intra-Afghan talks began in September of 2020, but made no significant progress, U.N reported that civilian casualties spiked to 45% only in the last three months of 2020 compared to the previous year.
It was reported that more than 3,000 Afghan civilians were killed and at least 5,800 people were wounded in 2020.
Reuters reported that U.S President Joe Biden for testing Taliban patience announced the extension of troops withdrawal by September 11th.
Following the May 1st deadline around 2,000 U.S troops still remains in Afghanistan, but U.S and NATO forces commander in Afghanistan this week said that the orderly withdrawal and handing over of military bases and equipment to Afghan forces had already begun, Reuters reported.
Afghan defense forces in those bases would require plenty of firepowers to resist Taliban attacks, who have recently been occupying strategic positions in surrounding areas, Reuters said in a report.
Lately, after Biden’s withdrawal announcement more than 100 Afghan security force members were killed in escalated Taliban attacks in the past two weeks.
According to the two Western officials, Washington had accepted the Taliban’s offer to shield foreign military bases from other terrorist groups such as Daesh.
The U.S wants the Taliban to demonstrate good faith by being committed to ensure Afghan soil does not become a threat to the U.S and its allies’ interests, which is also a key demand in the US-Doha agreement.
“They provided a layer of cover, almost like a buffer, and ordered their fighters to not injure or kill any foreign soldier in this period,” Reuters quoted one of the western diplomats involved in the process.
It is also important for the Taliban to show its ability to control the more recalcitrant factions in its movement like, Haqqani network, which has followed its own agenda though Sirajuddin Haqqani is the second-highest-ranking commander in the Taliban, one western official told Reuters.
Reuters reported that a Kabul based western security official said Taliban kept their side of the promise.
“The Taliban swiftly responded to even minor attacks conducted by the Haqqani network and Islamic State fighters around the bases,” he told Reuters.
Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid said that there is no security guarantee beyond the May 1st deadline, but that talks are being conducted among Taliban leadership and with the United States, Reuters outlined.
“So far our commitment of not attacking the foreign forces is until May 1, after that whether we will attack or not is an issue under discussion,” Mujahid said.
This secrete coordination between the Taliban and the United States has supported Taliban militants to hold positions close to Western bases, a risky move if no understanding is reached.
“They’ve definitely moved ever closer to a lot of Afghan and foreign bases,” Ashley Jackson, co-director of the Centre for the Study of Armed Groups at Overseas Development Institute, a London-based think-tank was quoted by Reuters.
“Encircling U.S., NATO, and Afghan bases seems like the Taliban strategy to poise themselves to take over when foreign forces leave”, she said.
The Afghan defense ministry deputy spokesman Fawad Aman told Reuters that the Taliban has intensified violence against Afghan people and their government while holding fire against foreign forces.
“By not attacking the foreign forces but continuously targeting the Afghan security forces and civilians, the Taliban have shown that they are fighting against the people of Afghanistan,” Aman indicated.
Deputy director of Asia Programme at Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, Michael Kugelman sympathized with Aman’s view saying that America has “every right to lambaste a U.S.-Taliban agreement for failing to bring a semblance of relief to Afghans themselves”, Reuters reported.
This comes as US special envoy for Afghan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad and Mullah Baradar, Taliban’s deputy political chief held talks on the peace process on Thursday.
Recently Taliban attacked an outpost of Afghan National Army in the city of Ghazni province on Friday night.
The base has reportedly Fallen to the Taliban following hours of a heavy firefight between the Afghan government and the militants.
The skirmish continued up to early hours of Saturday morning, and 30 soldiers are reported missing in action (MIA).
Violence in Afghanistan remains high despite peace efforts, and following the announcement of US and NATO withdrawal from the region.