Carla Babb – Voice of America
The top U.S. military officer says it's too soon to talk about an American troop withdrawal from Afghanistan or the future of U.S. counterterrorism forces there, as peace talks with the Taliban continue.
"I'm not using the 'withdraw' word right now," Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Wednesday at the Pentagon.
Dunford was speaking at the first on-camera Pentagon briefing by a secretary of defense and the chairman in exactly one year.
Dunford expressed hope that a peace agreement would cause "a disruption of the status quo" needed to move toward a resolution to the 18-year conflict.
He said any agreement would be "conditions-based" and would need to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a "sanctuary" for terrorists to launch attacks against the United States.
"It's premature to talk about what our counterterrorism presence in Afghanistan may or may not be without a better appreciation for what will the conditions be," he said.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said all options remain on the table.
The U.S.-Taliban deal reportedly could withdraw thousands of American troops from the country, leaving only a residual military force to ensure the Taliban is living up to its commitments outlined in the agreement.
Taliban officials have said the deal being negotiated with the U.S. would require the insurgent group to open a peace process with Afghan stakeholders to discuss a cease-fire or a reduction in attacks against government forces, along with matters related to future political governance.
U.S. officials say the Taliban also would be bound to prevent al-Qaida from establishing a safe haven in insurgent-controlled Afghan areas, and to help defeat Islamic State terrorists in the country.
The Afghan branch of Islamic State has intensified its deadly attacks in the country, raising questions about whether a U.S.-Taliban deal could end violence in Afghanistan. Earlier this month, Islamic State claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing at a wedding ceremony in Kabul that killed more than 80 people and injured about 160 others. Almost all of the victims were civilians.