Ayaz Gul – Voice of America
Officials in Afghanistan confirmed Sunday the United States plans to withdraw thousands of troops from the country, insisting the move stemmed from a mutual understanding between the two allied nations.
Sources in Kabul went on to tell VOA the drawdown process is expected to start in three months, though no official confirmation was available immediately about the timeline.
On Saturday, U.S. media reported that President Donald Trump’s administration intends to announce as early as later this week plans to reduce the number of American forces in Afghanistan by around 4,000.
A spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani insisted the troop reduction plan is not tied to the ongoing peace negotiations between Washington and the Taliban insurgency aimed at ending the 18-year-old war.
"The matter regarding the withdrawal of 4,000 troops had already been agreed upon in principle between the governments of Afghanistan and the United States," Dawa Khan Meenapal told VOA. He shared no further details.
Currently around 13,000 U.S. troops are deployed to Afghanistan who are conducting counterterrorism missions in addition to advising and training Afghan security forces battling the Taliban.
Trump had told an American broadcaster (Fox News Radio) in a recent interview he might reduce the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan to around 8,600.
The withdrawal of foreign forces has been at the center of a peace deal the U.S. has been trying to negotiate with the Taliban for over a year to end America’s longest war.
Trump had suspended the dialogue process in September citing the killing of an American soldier in a series of Taliban attacks in Kabul.
The two adversaries returned to the negotiating table in Qatar a week ago but Washington paused the talks again on Thursday in retaliation to a Taliban raid on the largest U.S.-run military base of Bagram, north of Kabul. The attack killed two Afghan civilians and injured scores of others.
U.S. and Taliban negotiators after months of meetings had concluded a draft agreement that outlined Taliban’s counterterrorism guarantees in exchange for a phased withdrawal of American and allied forces. The document would also require the insurgent group to reduce violence and enter into intra-Afghan negotiations to seek a permanent end to decades of hostilities in Afghanistan.
Critics have cautioned against an abrupt withdrawal of foreign forces, fearing it will embolden the insurgents.
"The conditions for withdrawal should be achieved so that Afghan security and defense forces are able to fill the vacuum, otherwise it can have a negative impact on the (battlefield) situation," sayid Nadir Khan Katawazai, a member of the Afghan parliament.
But former Afghan military general, Atiqullah Amarkhel, insisted as long as Afghan forces continued to receive financial assistance to sustain their operational costs, the reduction in foreign troops will not have any impact because neither U.S. nor NATO troops are taking part in battlefield activities.
Reports of the U.S. withdrawal come just days after the Washington Post released hundreds of documents showing U.S. officials and military commanders had been lying about the progress of the war. The revelation has encouraged the Taliban to intensify its propaganda against the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan and justify the violence.