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Trump decides to pull half of US troops from Afghanistan

By AFP
December 22, 2018

KABUL: US President Donald Trump has decided to pull about 7,000 troops from Afghanistan, a US official said on Friday, but the Afghan presidency brushed off concerns the drawdown would affect security.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the US official said "roughly half" of the 14,000 US forces in Afghanistan would leave "within the next several months."

The move stunned and dismayed diplomats and officials in Kabul who are intensifying a push to end the 17-year-old conflict with the Taliban, which already controls vast territory and are causing "unsustainable" Afghan troop casualties.

"If you´re the Taliban, Christmas has come early," a senior foreign official in the Afghan capital said on the condition of anonymity."Would you be thinking of a ceasefire if your main opponent has just withdrawn half their troops?"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 troops' withdrawal when contacted. But a senior Taliban commander welcomed the decision. “Frankly speaking we weren´t expecting that immediate US response,” the official said 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.

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 a half years, the Afghans have been in full control.” 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, said. 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 Kabul. 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.

A Nato spokesman would not comment on Trump´s decision, referring reporters to US authorities, but stressed the alliance´s continued commitment to its support mission in Afghanistan.

Tuesday was also the day Trump told the Pentagon he wanted to pull all US forces out of Syria. Defence Secretary Jim Mattis resigned on Thursday, saying his views were no longer reconcilable with Trump´s.

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.