US President Considers Significant Afghanistan Troop Withdrawal


US President Trump is considering significant Afghanistan troop withdrawal, two US officials told Reuters on Thursday.

Shortly after the officials spoke, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said he was quitting so that Donald Trump could have a Pentagon chief more aligned with the president’s views.

Jim Mattis has argued for maintaining a strong US military presence in Afghanistan to bolster diplomatic peace efforts.

He also opposed the US troop withdrawal from Syria as announced by Donald Trump on Wednesday. This move has bewildered allies and triggered a harsh reaction from Republican allies in Congress.

The Pentagon declined to comment on Afghanistan.

Garrett Marquis, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, said that the White House was not going to comment “on future strategic developments”.

The US officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said thousands of the 14,000 troops could be sent home as a result of the deliberations, the disclosure of which could undermine peace efforts with the Taliban.

President Trump, privately, has been grousing about US military involvement in Afghanistan, telling an ally as recently as Wednesday words to the effect of, “What are we doing there. We’ve been there all these years.”

The source, who asked to remain unidentified, said it appeared the president “has lost all patience” with the US military presence in Afghanistan.

More than 2,400 US forces have died in the 17-year-old war in Afghanistan, and Pentagon officials have repeatedly warned that a precipitous exit would allow militants to develop new plots on America like the 9/11 attacks that plunged the US into an era of open-ended warfare.

Last year, President Trump approved an increase in US troops but later acknowledged that he did so reluctantly. US officials have told Reuters that Trump has been keen to bring the Afghan conflict to a close.

The Taliban insurgency has strengthened its grip over the past three years, with the government in Kabul controlling just 56 percent of Afghanistan, down from 72 percent in 2015, a US government report showed.

Late last month, at least 22 Afghan police were killed in a Taliban ambush in Afghanistan’s western province of Farah.

Earlier this week, US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban representatives held talks in Abu Dhabi on a deal that would end the war. Officials from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) also took part.

The Saudi ambassador to Washington, Khalid bin Salman, tweeted on Thursday that the discussions had been productive and would bring “very positive results by the beginning of next year”.

In light of these tweets, former senior State Department official familiar with the issue said that the Taliban representatives rejected a proposal by US special envoy Khalilzad for a ceasefire and demanded that the talks focus on Afghanistan troop withdrawal.


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