WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump has ordered US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to reduce the number of US troops in Afghanistan by the 2020 election, said Mr Pompeo on Monday.
Responding to a question at an event at the Economic Club of Washington whether the United States could withdraw most of its troops from Afghanistan before the next presidential election, Mr Pompeo answered: “That’s my directive from the president of the United States. He’s been unambiguous: End the endless wars. Draw down. Reduce.”
The comments follow President Trump’s ice-breaking meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan at the White House last Monday, in which both leaders agreed to create an environment conducive to the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.
Speaking at a fireside chat at the club, the top US diplomat said that Washington had a simple message for all Afghans: “We want them to take their country back.”
Mr Pompeo also suggested that a troop withdrawal is connected to how President Trump assesses his job performance. “It’s not only my expectation, it would be job-enhancing,” he said.
The secretary said the withdrawal did not concern the United States alone as “countries from all across Europe and around the world” had sent troops to Afghanistan. “We hope that overall the need for combat forces in the region is reduced,” he added.
“Yeah, real progress. I try not to do timelines, but I’m optimistic,” said Mr Pompeo when asked if he saw any progress in reducing the need for the United States to be in Afghanistan.
“We’re not just negotiating with the Taliban. That’s the story. The truth of the matter is we’re talking to all Afghans,” he said. “President Ghani, I spoke to him on Friday morning. I’m speaking with the opposition … we’re speaking with Taliban officials.”
The secretary noted that his chief negotiator for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, had been working all across Afghanistan, he also met with “a broad swath of Afghanistan”, including NGOs and women groups.
“We want them to take their country back, and we want to reduce what is, for us, tens of billions of dollars a year in expenditures and enormous risk to your kids and your grandkids who are fighting for America” he said.
“We think there’s a path to reduce violence, achieve reconciliation, and still make sure that the American counterterrorism effort in Afghanistan has a value and the potential to reduce risk here in the States.”
Mr Trump who, according to The Washington Post, has often “privately and publicly expressed frustration” with America’s longest war also aired this frustration at his joint news conference with Prime Minister Imran Khan on July 22.
Hoping that “Pakistan is going to help us out to extricate ourselves” from this war, he said: “We’re like policemen. We’re not fighting the war. If we wanted to fight a war in Afghanistan and win it, I could win that war in a week. I just don’t want to kill 10 million people.”
Published in Dawn, July 30th, 2019