US President Donald Trump has ordered a reduction in the number of American troops in Afghanistan by 2020, news reports said on Monday, the first time the Trump presidency has put down an exit date for its troops from the war-torn country after an 18-year stay.
Trump’s deadline comes against the backdrop of continuing peace talks between the US and the rebel Taliban with an eighth round of talks slated for next week in Doha, Qatar’s capital. According to the Reuters news agency, the Taliban control or contest half the country at present but the Afghan government disputes the numbers stating a much smaller pocket of influence for the rebel group.
“That’s my directive from the President of the United States. He’s been unambiguous: End the endless wars. Draw down. Reduce. It won’t just be us," US secretary of state Mike Pompeo was quoted as telling an audience at the Economic Club of Washington by The Washington Post. The troop reduction plan was connected to how Trump viewed his job performance, Pompeo said adding that a reduction of forces is not only his expectation, “it would be job-enhancing," the report said. “We hope that overall, the need for combat forces in the region is reduced," Pompeo said.
“We think there’s a path to reduce violence, achieve reconciliation and still make sure that the American counterterrorism effort in Afghanistan has value and the potential to reduce risk in the United States," he added.
The comments confirm a timeline by which the US plans to reduce its presence in Afghanistan which has major implications for the security situation in the region. It is unclear what sort of a government would take control of Kabul in any power sharing arrangement between the Taliban and Afghan parties and whether any stable arrangement will come into power. Any government in Kabul with a Taliban presence is likely to give Pakistan an edge over India given that the Taliban is seen as a proxy for Islamabad. As for India, New Delhi will have to redraw its security plans as any government in Kabul with a Taliban component in it, will be seen as inimical to New Delhi and viewed with suspicion.
In 2017, Trump’s advisers had urged him to increase the presence of US troops in the country to prevent a total takeover by the Taliban, which controls about half the country. But last year, Trump appointed Zalmay Khalilzad as his special envoy for Afghanistan and tasked him with drawing a road map for withdrawal.
One of the agreements reached between Khalilzad and the Taliban in previous rounds of talks was that there would be a reduction in violence. Another was that the Taliban would not allow the territory of Afghanistan to be used by terrorists to launch attacks. However, there was no let-up in violence in the country with some 20 people reported killed on Sunday in a suicide attack targeting Afghan president Ashraf Ghani’s vice-presidential candidate Amrullah Saleh. No group has so far claimed responsibility for the attack, which came at the start of official campaigning for presidential elections scheduled for 28 September.
On Tuesday, the UN said at least 3,812 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first half of 2019 in the Afghan war.