U.S. says all options on table for Afghanistan, decision unclear on force posture after May 1


FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivers remarks about priorities for administration of U.S. President Joe Biden in the Ben Franklin room at the State Department in Washington, U.S. March 3, 2021. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool via REUTERS

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government said Sunday that all options remain on the table for its remaining 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, saying it has made no decisions about its military commitment after May 1.

The State Department comments came after reports emerged that U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken had made a new urgent push for a United Nations-led peace effort that included a warning that the U.S. military was considering exiting Afghanistan by May 1.

Blinken in a letter to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani published by TOLOnews, an Afghan news outlet, and confirmed in a published report by the New York Times, said the United States is "considering the full withdrawal of forces by May 1st as we consider other options."

A State Department spokeswoman declined to confirm the letter's veracity, but said Sunday the United States has "not made any decisions about our force posture in Afghanistan after May 1. All options remain on the table."

According to the letter, the United States is pursuing high-level diplomatic efforts "to move matters more fundamentally and quickly toward a settlement and a permanent and comprehensive cease-fire."

The letter said the United States would ask the United Nations to convene foreign ministers and envoys from Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, India and United States "to discuss a unified approach to supporting peace in Afghanistan."

It added the United States will ask Turkey to host a senior-level meeting of "both sides in the coming weeks to finalize a peace agreement."

Blinken's letter said the 90-day reduction violence proposal is "intended to prevent a spring offensive by the Taliban."

Blinken said in the event of a U.S. military withdrawal that he was concerned "the security situation will worsen and that the Taliban could make rapid territorial gains," adding he hoped Ghani would "understand the urgency of my tone."

Ghani said on Saturday, in a bid to push forward peace talks with the Taliban, that his government was ready to discuss holding fresh elections, insisting that any new government should emerge through the democratic process.

Ghani met U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad in Kabul during the past week to discuss ways to inject momentum in the stalled peace negotiations with Taliban representatives being held in Qatar. The State Department said Sunday "Khalilzad’s trip represents a continuation of American diplomacy in the region."

Violence and targeted killings have surged since the Afghan government began U.S.-backed negotiations with the Taliban last September, and western security officials say the insurgents, already holding large swathes of rural areas, have begun to gain ground around towns and cities.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Diane Craft)

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