US on track to pull troops out of Afghanistan: Pentagon
The United States is on track to meet its commitment to the Taliban to withdraw several thousand troops from Afghanistan by mid-July, even as violence flares, the peace process is stalled, and Kabul struggles in political deadlock.
US officials say they will reduce to 8,600 troops by July 15 and abandon five bases. By the second quarter of 2021, all foreign forces are supposed to withdraw, ending the US's longest war. Yet the outlook for peace is cloudy at best. In the absence of Afghan peace talks, the administration of US President Donald Trump may face the prospect of fully withdrawing even as the Taliban remains at war with the government.
That has concerned some lawmakers, including Representative Liz Cheney, a Republican and member of the House Armed Services Committee.
She says the US needs to keep a military and intelligence presence in Afghanistan to prevent groups like al-Qaeda and the ISIL's Afghan affiliate from forming havens from which to attack the US
"Withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan won't end the war - it will just let the terrorists win," she told The Associated Press.
Some question whether the US - Taliban agreement signed in Doha, Qatar, on February 29, which the Trump administration billed as "a decisive step to achieve a negotiated peace", was instead mainly a withdrawal agreement. Trump had campaigned on bringing troops home from foreign wars. And although the Afghan government publicly supported the deal, it did not participate directly in the negotiations and has not, in Washington's view, capitalised on the chance for peace talks.
"President Trump promised to bring our troops home from overseas and is following through on that promise," the White House said when the Doha deal was signed.
The deal stipulated that the Taliban would start intra-Afghan peace negotiations on March 10, but that has not happened. The Taliban and the Afghan government also have squabbled over a promised release of each other's prisoners.
"A lot of this boils down to: Was the US -Taliban agreement any kind of serious negotiation at all, or was it just totally a fig leaf to cover abject withdrawal? I suspect the latter," Stephen Biddle, a Columbia University professor of international and public affairs and a former adviser to US commanders in Kabul, told the Associated Press.
"It gave away almost all the leverage we had in exchange for virtually nothing," he added. "It looks very much like a situation in which the Taliban have concluded that the Americans are out, and they're going to play out the string and see what happens when we're gone."