Ayaz Gul – Voice of America
The U.S. military told VOA Monday it has not received orders to reduce troop levels in Afghanistan and remains fully committed to Afghan partners to achieve security objectives.
However, officials in Afghanistan have confirmed to VOA that 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.
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.
“The matter regarding the withdrawal of 4,000 troops has nothing to do with the peace talks with the Taliban. It had already been agreed upon in principle between the governments of Afghanistan and the United States," the deputy Afghan presidential spokesman Dawa Khan Meenapal told VOA on Sunday. He, however, emphasized it would be a “gradual withdrawal” and shared no further details.
Sources in Kabul told VOA the drawdown process is expected to start in three months “depending on the ground realities”, though no official confirmation from the Afghan government was available immediately about the timeline.
A U.S. military spokesman clarified in written comments to VOA that there is no timeline as they haven’t received orders yet to begin a drawdown.
“We remain fully committed to the Resolute Support mission and our Afghan partners, and focused on our key objective: ensuring Afghanistan is never again used as a safe haven for terrorists who threaten the United States, our allies or our interests,” added the spokesman.
Currently around 13,000 U.S. troops are deployed to Afghanistan and are conducting counterterrorism missions in addition to advising and training Afghan security forces battling the Taliban under the NATO’s Resolute Support mission.
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 in Afghanistan - 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 proposed 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," said 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.