WASHINGTON: The Trump administration intended to announce the drawdown of about 4,000 troops from Afghanistan early next week, US officials told NBC News on Sunday.
“The drawdown could be … a unilateral concession to the Taliban,” other officials told CNN. “The smaller US military presence will be largely focused on counterterrorism operations against groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS-K,” they added.
The officials, however, acknowledged the expected withdrawal could “reduce considerably” the US military’s ability to train and advise local Afghan forces.
The United States still has between 12,000 and 13,000 troops in Afghanistan.
The officials who spoke to NBC News said this would be a phased withdrawal that would occur over a few months, but they did not say when it would begin.
Defence secretary says withdrawal will take place even if Taliban don’t finalise an agreement
US President Donald Trump promised to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan during the 2016 presidential campaign and has made several attempts to start the process since coming to power.
US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper told an audience in Washington last week that the withdrawal would happen even if the Taliban did not finalise an agreement. Gen Scott Miller, the commander of US troops in Afghanistan, said later that he could sustain a reduction in forces.
One of the former defence officials said the withdrawal announcement was “part of trying to reset the talks with the Taliban”. This would allow US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad to urge the Taliban that the two sides restart negotiations where they left off, with the US withdrawing troops and the Taliban promising a ceasefire.
NBC News reported that the commander of US Central Command, Gen Frank McKenzie, participated in meetings on Thursday to discuss the footprint for US troops in the Middle East. The discussion included the issue of increasing the US military footprint in other parts of the Middle East to counter the “threat from Iran”.
The New York Times noted in an earlier report that one of America’s major goals in Afghanistan had been to train thousands of Afghan troops and it had spent billions of dollars to achieve that target.
“But nobody in Afghanistan — not the American military, and not President Ashraf Ghani’s top advisers — thinks Afghan military forces could support themselves,” NYT reported. “The Afghan army, in particular, suffers from increasing casualty rates and desertion.”
Another report in The Washington Post said that US military trainers described the Afghan security forces “as incompetent, unmotivated and rife with deserters”. The report claimed that Afghan commanders “pocket salaries — paid by US taxpayers — for tens of thousands of ghost soldiers”.
No US military trainer “expressed confidence that the Afghan army and police could ever fend off, much less defeat, the Taliban on their own,” the Post added.
The office of the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (Sigar) noted that more than 60,000 members of Afghan security forces have been killed, a casualty rate that US commanders have called unsustainable.
A US military officer, interviewed by Sigar, estimated that one-third of police recruits were “drug addicts or Taliban”.
Since 2001, an estimated 157,000 people have been killed in the war in Afghanistan, forcing the United States to reconsider its stance on an apparently unending war.
So far, 64,124 Afghan security forces, 43,074 Afghan civilians, 42,100 Taliban fighters and other insurgents, 3,814 US contractors, 2,300 US military personnel, 1,145 Nato and coalition troops, 424 humanitarian aid workers and 67 journalists and media workers have been killed in 18 years of war in Afghanistan.
Published in Dawn, December 16th, 2019