UNITED STATES/AFGHANISTAN: President Donald Trump has called for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan by Christmas. According to the plan, the number of US troops in Afghanistan will reduce from 4,500 to 2,500. Meanwhile, today, territory in the northeast region of Afghanistan has fallen into the hands of the Taliban. More than 20 Afghan forces killed (Tolo).
There is speculation that the promise of troop withdrawal underlies the firing of Mark Esper, the former US Defense Secretary, who opposed troop withdrawal because Taliban conditions weren’t met.
Taliban welcomes US troop withdrawal
Reacting to the proposed withdrawal, The Taliban welcomed the decision and called it a positive step toward practicing the US-Taliban deal.
US Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller said on Wednesday, “The move was made with the full concurrence of military officials in the U.S. Central Command area and at the Pentagon. The decision is in keeping with President Donald J. Trump’s promise to get U.S. forces home from the ‘forever wars’.”
The Pentagon has issued a notice to commanders knows as a ‘warning order’ – to begin planning the downscaling of US soldiers to 2500 in Afghanistan and Iraq by 15 January (The Nation).
Provisions in US-Afghan Peace Agreement
Four provisions for the peace agreement were laid out in Feb 2020: Council on Foreign Relations
- Cease-fire. Negotiators agreed to a temporary reduction in violence and said that a lasting cease-fire among U.S., Taliban, and Afghan forces will be part of intra-Afghan negotiations.
- Withdrawal of foreign forces. The United States agreed to reduce its number of troops in the country from roughly 12,000 to 8,600 within 135 days. If the Taliban follows through on its commitments, all U.S. and other foreign troops will leave Afghanistan within fourteen months. Experts have cautioned that pulling troops out too quickly could be destabilizing.
- Intra-Afghan negotiations. The Taliban agreed to start talks with the Afghan government in March 2020. Deputy Taliban leader Sirajuddin Haqqani wrote, “If we can reach an agreement with a foreign enemy, we must be able to resolve intra-Afghan disagreements through talks.”
- Counterterrorism assurances. The Taliban guaranteed that Afghanistan will not be used by any of its members, other individuals, or terrorist groups to threaten the security of the United States and its allies.
- U.S. officials have also stressed protecting women’s rights.
A US troop withdrawal would fulfill the US promise to draw troop numbers down.
Afghan Security Forces and many US officials warn that premature pullout could lead to destabilization
However, many in the Afghan security forces and in the US military apparatus think a premature troop withdrawal could destabilize the war-torn nation and that it may help insurgent groups emerge again following the recent deadly attacks that questioned the Afghan government’s ability to protect the Academic institutions.
ISIS claims responsibility for an attack on a tutoring centre in Kabul this month that left 22 students killed. Another attack by ISIS at one of Afghan’s largest universities in Kabul left 35 students and faculty killed, and more injured. Afghanistan National Security Department said in a statement that they killed Muhamad Hanif, the Al-Qaeda group leader for the Indian subcontinent, an affiliate between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda networks.
Deputy Foreign Minister of Afghan Defense warns that pullout will leave Afghanistan vulnerable
In an interview with Transcontinental Times, Atiqullah Baryalay, former deputy ministry of Afghan Defense, said, “The withdrawal of US forces is useful for the Taliban but harmful for America, Afghanistan, and the process peace. The Taliban will find the opportunity to increase their attacks on Afghan security forces and evade from their commitment to the United States, which is cutting ties with al-Qaeda and other international terrorists.
“The war will be intensified in the interest of the Taliban but against the interest of people in Afghanistan and the United States. And these interests are parts of a responsible exit of the United States because it does not help to have sustainable peace.
“Despite the fact that the reduction in US forces is not primarily in the sense of complete withdrawal, but the lack of combat support or limited combat support for the Afghan troops will make the Taliban more optimistic and puts the next president of the United States in a difficult position.
“While this is the duty of the next president of the United States [to implement] the exit program, Trump should not undermine the leverage of US power by taking revenge on the next president, which [will] result in the [weakening of America].
President-elect Biden offers measured response
The spokesman for the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said, ”President Ghani spoke with the US Acting Defense Secretary Mr Christopher Miller on the phone this evening. Both sides talked about the peace process, strengthening mutual relations, and continued meaningful U.S military support to the Afghan Security and Defence Forces.”
President-Elect Biden has a complicated history with the issue of US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“These ‘forever wars’ have to end. I support drawing down the troops. But here’s the problem, we still have to worry about terrorism and [the Islamic State],” Biden reportedly told Stars and Stripes. I think we need special ops capacity to coordinate with our allies,” Biden said, adding that he thinks “1,500 to 2,000” troops would likely remain (Fox News).