Initial Deal with Afghan Taliban – US Prepares For Reducing Number Of Troops In Afghanistan: Report
The Trump administration is preparing to withdraw thousands of troops from Afghanistan in exchange for concessions from the Taliban, including a ceasefire and a renunciation of al Qaeda, as part of an initial deal to end the nearly 18-year-old war, The Washington Post reported quoting the US officials say.
The agreement requires the Taliban to begin negotiating a larger peace deal directly with the Afghan government and could cut the number of American troops in the country from roughly 14,000 to between 8,000 and 9,000.
The report comes as President Donald Trump on Wednesday said that he wants to get out of Afghanistan “as quickly as he can” and reiterated that the US should not have been in these wars.
“We’ll continue to (pull out troops from Afghanistan). Well, we’re going to see. We’re working on negotiating a deal right now, as you probably have heard, and you know, at some point, we want to get out as quickly as we can,” Trump told C-Span in an interview.
Earlier on Monday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Trump had ordered him to reduce the number of American troops in war-torn Afghanistan before the presidential elections in 2020.
But some Afghan officials fear that a preliminary deal outlining a US withdrawal could weaken their negotiating position during intra-Afghan talks and eventually leave them alone to fight the battle-hardened Taliban.
According to the newspaper, the proposal – a result of months-long between the Taliban and Zalmay Khalilzad – is likely to be viewed sceptically by some US and Afghan officials who question the Taliban’s honesty and wonder how the United States can verify whether Taliban leaders are following through.
“I would say that they are 80 or 90 percent of the way there,” said one official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss details of the emerging deal. “But there is still a long way to go on that last 10 or 20 per cent.”
A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, declined to comment about the likelihood of an initial agreement, saying he did not know when talks would resume.
“We are hopeful,” he said. “Things look promising that there will be a breakthrough. We hope there won’t be any obstacle, but it also depends on the seriousness of the Americans.”
Khalilzad said in a tweet that he plans to resume his next round of talks with the Taliban in Qatar soon and that if the group does its part, an agreement will be finalised.
Additional cuts to the US forces would be negotiated as part of discussions involving the Taliban and the Afghan government, the officials said.
The US officials acknowledged there are legitimate concerns that the Taliban might not break with al-Qaeda, as Washington has demanded, or stand up to the Islamic State. Still, officials may be content with a partial troop withdrawal that opens the door to additional negotiations and keeps the counterterrorism mission alive as the status quo becomes politically untenable.
“The Americans call this a peace negotiation, but the Taliban definitely perceive it as a withdrawal negotiation,” one Afghan official said.
A State Department official rejected that view, saying the United States is pursuing “peace” not “withdrawal”.