BRUSSELS -- NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Thursday (February 4) urged the Taliban to honour commitments to reduce violence and cut ties to terror groups.
"My message to the Taliban is that they have to live up to their commitments, especially when it comes to breaking all ties with international terrorists, including al-Qaeda, and we need to see reduced violence," Stoltenberg told journalists.
"We have seen attacks also against individuals, journalists and others, and of course the high level of violence is something that is of great concern."
The Taliban Monday insisted it would continue its "fight and jihad" if foreign troops do not leave by May, part of the peace agreement the group signed with US negotiators last February 29.
Just 2,500 US troops remain in Afghanistan -- the lowest since the start of the war in 2001.
Under the agreement, the Taliban pledged to start peace talks with the Afghan government and to reduce violence and stop attacking cities, district centres and highways.
But a series of targeted attacks on journalists, judges, civil society activists and other prominent figures has undermined the intra-Afghan peace talks under way in Doha, Qatar.
Through targeted killings, the Taliban seek to create social chaos, gain leverage at the negotiating table, weaken the media and silence the voice of critics, Afghan authorities and analysts say.
Another of the pledges the Taliban made in the agreement with the United States last year was to sever ties with al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.
But Afghan security forces' killing of several top al-Qaeda leaders in recent months indicates that al-Qaeda is still functioning in Afghanistan and still has close ties to the Taliban.
There is also evidence that the Taliban and al-Qaeda continue to collaborate on complex terrorist attacks in Afghanistan.
Recent Taliban delegation visits to Tehran and Moscow have cast doubt on the group's commitment to the Afghan people.
NATO members must decide "together" on the future of their mission, Stoltenberg has insisted repeatedly.
"If we decide to leave, we risk to jeopardise the peace process, we risk to lose the gains we have made in the fight against international terrorism over the last years," he said.
Meanwhile, a study mandated by the US Congress Wednesday called for a delay in troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, warning that a swift pullout would effectively hand the Taliban a victory.
The goal should be not simply to end America's longest war but to ensure an "acceptable peace agreement" between the Taliban and the internationally recognised Afghan government, said the Afghanistan Study Group.
"Withdrawing US troops irresponsibly would likely lead to a new civil war in Afghanistan, inviting the reconstitution of anti-US terrorist groups that could threaten our homeland and providing them with a narrative of victory against the world's most powerful country," the long-awaited report said.
The US Congress mandated the study in December 2019.
The agreement laid out benchmarks for the US withdrawal, and "it will be very difficult, and perhaps impossible, for those conditions to be achieved by May 2021", noted the study.
"Achieving the overall objective of a negotiated stable peace that meets US interests would need to begin with securing an extension of the May deadline," it said.
"The Taliban are not meeting their commitments to reduce violence and to renounce their ties to al-Qaeda," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said January 28.
He did not commit to a total troop withdrawal by the May deadline.
"I would say this to the leaders of the Taliban, that ... they make it that much more difficult for final decisions to be made about force presence by their [reluctance] to commit to reasonable, sustainable and credible negotiations at the table," he said.