In his testimony before the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on National Security US peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad said the Taliban have not fully complied with their commitments under the February agreement with the US.
As part of the agreement, the Taliban need to cut ties with al-Qaeda but according to Khalilzad, although the Taliban have made some progress in this respect the group still has more to accomplish.
Khalilzad said: "With regard to terrorism and al-Qaeda, in this setting, what I can say is the Talibs have taken some steps, based on the commitment they have made, positive steps, but they have some distance still to go. ... [W]e are in the middle of the process. The picture is one of progress but itís not completed."
The Subcommittee also heard testimony from David F. Helvey, who is performing the duties of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs at the Department of Defense. He also said the Taliban has not yet fulfilled its end of the deal.
"[S]o far, they are not fully compliant, so we have work to be done there. I think we know that [and] the Taliban knows it."
As part of the deal, the US agreed to withdraw its troops by April next year - and have since February gradually reduced its numbers in Afghanistan.
Already down from 13,000 to 8,600 a further troop withdrawal to 4,500 is expected by November.
Both Khalilzad and Helvey testified that the path to a sustainable reconciliation agreement between Afghanistan and the Taliban will be complicated, and high levels of violence remain an obstacle to peace.
Khalilzad stated: "While we have reasons to be hopeful, we are under no illusions about the challenges ahead. The conflict in Afghanistan is especially complex, and negotiators will have to overcome personal interests and political differences while representing diverse constituencies. We expect that there will be setbacks and obstacles."
He also stated: "The Afghan people will suffer if there is no peace agreement."
Helvey testified: "Taliban violence, quite frankly, has been unacceptably high for too long."
He also said that terrorist groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria Khorasan (ISIS-K) and al-Qaeda still aspire to threaten US national security interests and that "a strong and capable ANDSF [Afghan National Defense and Security Forces] focused on combating terrorist threats and defending the Afghan people is going to be our best chance at supporting and defending US interests."
In his summary to the House, Khalilzad said the USí strategy going forward is twofold.
"One, continue holding the Taliban to the commitments they made in the February 29 agreement, including on combatting international terrorism and discussing a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire at Afghanistan Peace Negotiations.
"Two, adjust our force posture consistent with the agreement and conditions in Afghanistan. We are on a path to reduce troop levels to between 4,000 and 5,000 and with further reductions possible based on conditions.
"I want to assure this committee that we will always maintain the ability to protect the United States, but staying in Afghanistan is not an end in and of itself. Our goal for Afghanistan is a nation at peace - with itself and its neighbors - and firmly aligned with the United States and our allies against international terrorism."
Khalilzad reiterated that the conflict in Afghanistan is especially complex, and negotiators will have to overcome personal interests and political differences while representing diverse constituencies.
"We expect that there will be setbacks and obstacles. This task has required a diverse and dynamic team, made up of State Department Foreign Service Officers, civil servants, and detailees from across the US government. We have also partnered closely and effectively with the Department of Defense, especially General Scott Miller, the commanding general of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
"This whole-of-government effort reflects the best of American diplomacy," he said.
Khalilzad was appointed as the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation in September 2018, with a mandate to find a diplomatic formula to bring an end to Americaís longest war, reduce the burden on the US military and taxpayer, provide the best chance for a unified and representative Afghanistan at peace and to ensure terrorists can never us Afghan soil to threaten the security of the United States or its allies again.
After 18 months of intense diplomacy, two milestones have been achieved - the US-Taliban agreement in February and the start of Afghan peace talks which are currently underway in Doha.