The US said it would cut assistance to Afghanistan by US$1 billion this year and threatened more cuts could come as a breakdown in talks over forming a unity government threatened to derail a US-engineered peace deal.
Hours after departing Kabul on Monday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement saying that the US “deeply regrets” the failure of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and former Afghan chief executive Abdullah Abdullah to form a unity government.
He said that the US is imposing the US$1 billion cut in assistance because of the breakdown, which dates from disputed national elections late last year.
“Their failure has harmed US-Afghan relations and, sadly, dishonors those Afghan, Americans and coalition partners who have sacrificed their lives and treasure in the struggle to build a new future for this country,” Pompeo said, adding that Washington could cut aid by another US$1 billion in 2021.
The US has earmarked US$4.35 billion in funding for this year, a Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction report released on Jan. 30 said.
The inability of Afghan leaders to broker an agreement imperils a peace deal reached between the US and the Taliban last month to bring an end to what has become the US’ longest war. The deal reached in Doha was expected to lead to talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban starting on about March 10, a deadline that has already passed.
In a televised address to the nation yesterday, Ghani said that the government would ensure the US actions would not affect key sectors.
“The US has not yet cut the aid, but they made it conditional and we will make efforts to convince them through dialogue and negotiations” to not withdraw that support, Ghani said.
Even with Ghani and Abdullah both claiming victory in last year’s election, the peace deal called for a team of Afghan representatives that was expected to include more than just government officials.
That opened the door to Ghani and Abdullah being represented in talks with the Taliban, but the politics of achieving that have, so far, proved elusive.
“They still can’t see their way towards putting together the team, an inclusive team,” Pompeo told reporters on his plane en route back to the US. “That’s why you see in our statement that we are disappointed that they’ve not been able to do that.”
However, he suggested that the US could revisit its decision to cut aid.
“We are hopeful, frankly, that they will get their act together and we won’t have to do it,” he said.
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