On Friday, February 19, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin participated in his first news conference as Pentagon chief. The hot topic was Afghanistan and the looming May 1 troop withdrawal date.

According to the Associated Press, the willingness of the U.S. to withdraw from Afghanistan will be dictated by the actions of the Taliban, specifically their willingness to reduce violence and to participate in peace talks with the Afghan government.

Austin candidly said, “clearly the violence is too high.”

Austin was not willing to provide any information on whether the U.S. intends to meet the May 1 withdrawal deadline or if there are plans to re-address the peace deal with the intent of maintaining a troop presence in the country for an extended period of time.

However, Secretary of Defense Austin did say, “We are mindful of the looming deadlines, but we want to do this methodically and deliberately, but we’re focused on making sure that we make the right decisions, and we’ll go through this process deliberately.”

A year ago, the Trump Administration arranged a peace deal with the Taliban. The agreement was that there would be a phased withdrawal of foreign troops out of Afghanistan, with the last of the troops leaving by May 1. In return, the Taliban were required to begin peace talks with the Afghan government, cease attacks on U.S. troops, and denounce all connections with al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations.

Austin pointed out that the violence “must decrease now” and that the Taliban must continue peace talks with the Afghan government.

It’s no secret that the fight in Afghanistan has been going on for quite some time and many are ready to close this chapter, but the U.S. has to continue weighing its options.