General

Trump to withdraw ‘significant’ troops from Afghanistan

KABUL US President Donald Trump has decided topull a significant number of troops from Afghanistan, a US official has told AFP, but the Afghan presidency on Friday brushed off concerns the drawdown would affect security.

Reports suggested as many as half of the 14,000 troops in the war-torn

country could be leaving.

The surprise move stunned and dismayed foreign diplomats and officials in

Kabul who are involved in an intensifying push to end the 17-year conflict

with the Taliban, which already controls vast amounts of territory and is

causing unsustainable Afghan troop casualties.

If you're the Taliban, Christmas has come early, a senior foreign

official in the Afghan capital told AFP on the condition of anonymity.

Would you be thinking of a ceasefire if your main opponent has just

withdrawn half their troops?

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid would not comment about the troop

withdrawal when contacted by AFP. But a senior Taliban commander welcomed the

decision.

Frankly speaking we weren't expecting that immediate US response, the

official told AFP from an unknown location in northwest Pakistan.

We are more than happy, they realised the truth. We are expecting more

good news.

It is not clear if US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad or the Afghan

government had been warned of Trump's plans in advance.

But a spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani downplayed the effect of

any pullout.

If they withdraw from Afghanistan it will not have a security impact

because in the last four and half years the Afghans have been in full

control, presidential spokesman Haroon Chakhansuri said via social media.

But Afghans across the country expressed fears that a US troop withdrawal

could derail peace efforts, return the Taliban to power, and dissolve the

country into civil war.

We are terrified that history will be repeated, Fazli Ahmad, a car

washer in the southern city of Kandahar, told AFP.

Shaima Dabeer, a 50-year-old housewife in the northern city of Mazar-i-

Sharif, said she feared for the future of her children.

Afghanistan will go back to the Taliban era, she told AFP.

Trump's decision apparently came Tuesday as Khalilzad met with the Taliban

in Abu Dhabi, part of efforts to bring the militants to the negotiating table

with the Afghan government.

They discussed issues ranging from the group's longstanding demand for a

pullout of foreign troops, the release of prisoners and a ceasefire,

Khalilzad told Afghan media in Kabul on Thursday.

That decision has been made. There will be a significant withdrawal, the

American official told AFP on condition of anonymity on Thursday.

Tuesday was also the day Trump told the Pentagon he wanted to pull all US

forces out of Syria. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis quit Thursday, saying his

views were no longer reconcilable with Trump's.

'Unsustainable' casualties

Critics suggest the president's twin foreign policy decisions on Syria and

Afghanistan could unspool a series of cascading and unpredictable events

across the Middle East and in Afghanistan.

If we continue on our present course we are setting in motion the loss of

all our gains and paving the way toward a second 9/11, warned US Senator

Lindsey Graham via Twitter.

Afghan forces have been taking what experts describe as unsustainable

casualties since NATO pulled its combat forces from the country in 2014.

Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie, who has been nominated to lead the US

military's Central Command, warned earlier this month that unless recruiting

and training improve, local forces will not overcome the current casualty

rate.

Ghani said last month nearly 30,000 Afghan security forces had been killed

since the start of 2015, a figure much higher than anything previously

acknowledged.

In an interview with BBC Radio 4 broadcast Friday but recorded before news

of the troop withdrawal was leaked, Ghani mentioned a sacrifice of more

than 45,000 local forces in the past four years. It was unclear whether that

figure referred to deaths or also included injuries.

The United States has about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan working either

with a NATO mission to support Afghan forces or in separate counter-terrorism

operations.

The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times reported that more than

7,000 troops would be returning from Afghanistan.

The Taliban was toppled from power by a US-led invasion in 2001 following

the 9/11 attacks masterminded by Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who had

been harboured by Afghanistan.

Longest war

The war is now America's longest, with more than 2,200 US military

personnel killed there since the start of 2001, including 13 this year.

Mattis and other top military advisors last year persuaded Trump to commit

thousands more troops to Afghanistan as part of a strategy that also included

ramping up air strikes on the Taliban and its relatively small but potent

rival, the Islamic State group.

Trump at the time said his instinct was to get out of Afghanistan.

Khalilzad, who has met with Taliban representatives several times in

recent months, has expressed hopes for a peace deal before the Afghan

presidential elections scheduled for April.

Foreign observers and officials said Trump's move had handed the Taliban a

major propaganda and tactical victory, without the militants having to make

any concessions.

It's gotten the troop withdrawals it's always wanted without even having

to make any concessions, Michael Kugelman of the Wilson Center told AFP.

Now it has a tremendous battlefield advantage, which gives it the

opportunity to scale up its fight in a huge way.

Source: Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS)