The US said it will cut assistance to Afghanistan by $1bn (€927m) 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 the US "deeply regrets" the failure of President Ashraf Ghani and former chief executive Abdullah Abdullah to form a unity government.
He said the US is imposing the $1bn cut in assistance because of the breakdown, which dates from disputed elections late last year.
"Their failure has harmed US-Afghan relations and, sadly, dishonours those Afghan, Americans and coalition partners who have sacrificed their lives and treasure in the struggle to build a new future for this country," Mr Pompeo said.
He added the US administration could cut aid by another $1bn in 2021. The US has earmarked $4.35bn (€4bn) in funding for 2020, according to the latest report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction released on January 30.
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 America's longest war. The deal reached in Doha was expected to lead to talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban starting around March 10, a deadline that has already passed.
In a televised address to the nation, President Ghani said the government would ensure the US action won't 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, he said.
Even with Mr Ghani and Mr 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 Mr Ghani and Mr 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," Mr Pompeo said. "We are disappointed they've not been able to do that." (© Bloomberg)