United States plan to cut troop size in Afghanistan stuns diplomats, Kabul

Hugh Fox
December 25, 2018

Peace talks aside, the announced withdrawal has Afghan generals and analysts anxious about the ability of the beleaguered Afghan National Afghan Security Force to stave off a Taliban insurgency unfettered by US troops and their pounding air power.

The pullout comes as the United States spearheads global efforts to end the war with the Taliban, which was toppled from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.

The Wall Street Journal quoted an unnamed senior US official on December 20 as saying that Trump "wants to see viable options about how to bring conflicts to a close".

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Instead, the United States nearly certainly would have to curtain its missions, something that could provide an opportunity for a resurgent Taliban to expand their offensives across Afghanistan.

"This signals to the Taliban that the U.S.is serious about negotiating an exit", says Smith, adding that it would erode the militant's skepticism that Washington is open to withdrawing from Afghanistan.

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The planned drawdown, according to a Pentagon adviser who spoke on the condition of anonymity, blindsided top USA military and allied commanders. The White House did not provide a comment for this story.

U.S. troops keep watch during an official visit in Farah province, Afghanistan May 19, 2018.

"Their top priority is for the United States to leave Afghanistan", said Campbell, now an analyst with the RAND Corp think tank. "But it will be a focus of mine, and I will advocate that it should be a focus of the Progressive Caucus to get us out of Afghanistan".

A spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Haroon Chakhansuri, downplayed the news, saying: It "will not have a security impact because in the last four and half years the Afghans have been in full control".

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, often a vocal Trump ally, warned of possible danger if the drawdown went through.

The Taliban have seized control of more land in Afghanistan over the past three years.

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The decision to pull around half of the 14,000 American troops in Afghanistan has stunned and dismayed diplomats and officials in Kabul, and comes amid a renewed push for talks with the Taliban to end the 17-year war.

"The withdrawal will certainly affect overall operations but we will have to wait and see which units are going to go home first".

He said: "If we continue our present course we are setting in motion the loss of all our gains and paving the way towards a second 9/11".

Richard Olson, a former USA special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, said that Trump's plan severely weakened Khalilzad's negotiating hand. Officials of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates were also in attendance.

"Considering the decision as a serious USA endgame step, political elites in Kabul will probably aim to close ranks and raise questions about the timing and commitments made to maintain stability", says Omar Samad, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Atlantic Council and former Afghan diplomat.

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