The United States is set to withdraw thousands of troops from Afghanistan as part of an initial peace deal with the Taliban, according to reports.
Delivering on a campaign promise, President Donald Trump appeared ready to pull out as many as 6,000 U.S. service members from the country. The proposal would reduce the number of U.S. troops in the country by between 8,000 and 9,000, officials said on condition of anonymity. Some 14,000 American service members are currently stationed in Afghanistan.
The Washington Post reported that the plan would require the Taliban to begin negotiating a larger agreement directly with the Afghan government to end the nearly 18-year-old war. Fox News confirmed the report, but said that one anonymous official cautioned the proposal was subject to a peace deal with the Taliban.
According to the Post, the plan emerged after months of negotiations between the Taliban and Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan-born American diplomat who was appointed by the Trump administration last year to revive talks.
Khalizad on Wednesday wrapped up what he called his “most productive visit” to Kabul. Next, he will travel to Pakistan and then Qatar to continue talks with the Taliban, a State Department official said.
“Neither side will win it militarily”
In another indication that a force-reduction deal may be in the works, the Afghan government on Wednesday named a 15-member team to negotiate directly with the Taliban. Meetings with the Taliban and the Afghan government would proceed after the U.S. and Taliban officials reached a preliminary deal.
Army Gen. Austin “Scott” Miller, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, is open to the drawndown, two anonymous defense officials told the Post, because he believes a counterterrorism force will remain with the capability to strike the Islamic State and al-Qaida.
Miller, who took command in Kabul last September, has previously said that only diplomacy can end the war.
“Neither side will win it militarily, and if neither side will win it militarily you have to move … towards a political settlement here,” he said in an interview with ABC News in February.
A spokesman for Miller declined to comment to the Post, as did a Taliban spokesman.
Afghan officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the Post they were pleased the Taliban would be required to meet with them under the U.S. plan. But some worried that a partial pullout would embolden the terrorist group, which seeks to reestablish an Islamic emirate.
“The Americans call this a peace negotiation, but the Taliban definitely perceive it as a withdrawal negotiation,” one Afghan official said.
Trump has tried to withdraw from Afghanistan
Trump, who campaigned for the presidency on an “America First’ platform, has expressed mounting frustration with the length and costliness of the Afghanistan war.
Earlier in the day, the president told reporters at the White House that he could easily win the war if he were willing to abide mass bloodshed.
“I could win that war in a week. I just don’t want to kill 10 million people,” Trump said before holding a closed-door meeting with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan. “If I wanted to win that war, Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the earth. It would be over in — literally, in 10 days.”
Last December, Trump ordered the withdrawal of roughly half of the 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. But those plans were put on hold as the U.S. sought to broker a peace deal with the Taliban.
In late 2017, Trump increased troop numbers in Afghanistan from about 11,00 to the current level at the request of military leaders.
On Monday, two U.S. soldiers — Spec. Michael Nance, 24, and Pfc. Brandon Kreischer, 20 — were killed in Uruzgan province in what officials described as an “insider” attack by an Afghan soldier. Fourteen U.S. troops have died this year from injuries sustained in the conflict.
According to the Pentagon, 2,373 U.S. service members have died in Afghanistan since 2001.
- U.S. soldiers participating in President Donald Trump’s Fourth of July parade in Washington, D.C., on July 4, 2019.: Screen grab