Afghanistan doesn't expect troop withdrawal to affect security

(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Shaiyla Hakeem)

A significant reduction in the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan won't impact upon the security of the war-torn country, a spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani said on Dec. 21, 2018.

It was the first official Afghan reaction to reports in the U.S. media that President Donald Trump is considering a "significant" withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, with some quoting unnamed officials as saying the decision has already been made.

"If they withdraw from Afghanistan it will not have a security impact because in the last 4 1/2 years the Afghans have been in full control," Ghani's spokesman, Haroon Chakhansuri, said via social media.

The Wall Street Journal quoted an unnamed senior U.S. official on Dec. 20, 2018, as saying that Trump "wants to see viable options about how to bring conflicts to a close."


The AFP news agency quoted a U.S. official as saying the decision has already been made for a "significant" U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

"That decision has been made. There will be a significant withdrawal," AFP quoted the official as saying.

CNN also reported that Trump has already ordered the military to make plans for a withdrawal of perhaps half of the current 14,000-strong force.

NATO has so far declined to comment on the reports, saying only that is aware of the reports.

In response to an RFE/RL question, NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said, "The Afghan Army and police have been fully in charge of the security of Afghanistan for over four years. They are a brave, committed, and increasingly capable force, who have ensured the security of the parliamentary elections earlier this year."

"Earlier this month, NATO foreign ministers expressed steadfast commitment to ensuring long-term security and stability in Afghanistan," Lungescu said.

"Our engagement is important to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for international terrorists who could threaten us at home."

However, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius, whose NATO-member country is a contributor to Resolute Support, voiced skepticism that even a partial U.S. withdrawal could be supplanted by the remaining members.

"Frankly, I do not believe that we can split forces and rely that something can be done in the absence of an important player. It's difficult really to say," Linkevicius told RFE/RL.

The Western-backed government in Kabul has been struggling to counter attacks from the Taliban and other militant groups since the withdrawal of most NATO combat troops in 2014.

U.S. officials have been attempting to push the Taliban to the negotiating table with the government in Kabul. Many Taliban leaders insist that U.S. forces depart before substantial peace talks can take place.

The reports came a day after Trump surprised and angered many U.S. lawmakers, administration officials, and international allies by saying he was pulling "all" U.S. troops out of Syria, where they are leading a multinational coalition backing local forces in the fight against Islamic State (IS) militants.

It also came shortly before Trump announced that his defense secretary, Jim Mattis, would be leaving his post at the end of February 2019.

U.S. media are reporting that Mattis opposed Trump's move to withdraw from Syria. In his resignation letter, Mattis said his views were not fully "aligned" with those of the president.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

A U.S.-led coalition has been in Afghanistan since 2001, when it drove the Taliban from power after Al-Qaeda militants — whose leaders were being sheltered in Afghanistan — carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

However, the Western-backed government in Kabul has struggled to counter attacks from the Taliban and other militant groups since the withdrawal of most NATO combat troops in 2014.

U.S. officials have been attempting to push the Taliban to the negotiating table with the government in Kabul. Many Taliban leaders insist that U.S. forces depart before substantial peace talks can take place.

'Huge Mistake'

Mohammad Taqi, a Florida-based political analyst, told RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal that a rapid U.S. withdrawal would be "a huge mistake."

"If we look at it in context of talks with the Taliban, then it seems [the] Taliban have already strengthened their position," he said. "Now the reports of [a U.S. withdrawal] show a weakening stance by the U.S., which could subsequently undermine [the] Afghan government's position."

On Dec. 20, 2018, Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special peace envoy for Afghanistan, questioned the Taliban's determination to end the 17-year war after the group's representatives refused to meet with an Afghan government-backed negotiating team.

Khalilzad said that, while he was certain the Afghan government wanted to end the conflict, it was unclear whether the Taliban were "genuinely seeking peace."

Khalilzad's remarks came following his latest face-to-face meeting in December 2018 with the Taliban, which was held in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) and was also attended by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

The U.A.E. hailed the talks as "positive for all parties concerned," while the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Khalid bin Salman, claimed the meetings will produce "very positive results by the beginning of next year."

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.