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U.S. says no timetable for Afghan troop withdrawal

KABUL: The US envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad has said that Washington still has no timetable to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, brushing off claims by the rebel Taliban that a ‘military drawdown’ deal has been struck.

Khalilzad said: “To be clear, no troop withdrawal timetable exists”.

Taliban deputy chief negotiator Salam Hanafi said on Wednesday that the group will negotiate directly with Kabul once the US announces a full withdrawal. Leaders from the rebel group are in Moscow for talks with Russia as well as Afghan officials and former officials — including the country’s first post-Taliban president, Hamid Karzai.

Insurgents have for years refused to talk directly with the government, who they claim is a puppet of Washington, while the US has refused to talk saying that peace negotiations should be between the two sides. It however changed in recent months with the US now holding direct talks with Taliban officials in Doha. While the Taliban has been leaking what they say are details of the agreements, the US has been tight-lipped except to say that many of the group’s claims are inaccurate.

US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that negotiations were progressing well. He said that he would reduce the 14,000 troop presence in Afghanistan as progress was made in peace talks but gave no fixed date.

As US President is keen on ending the US longest war and withdrawing US soldiers, he faces opposition from both sides of the political divide at home. While he has significant power as president to act without the Senate and Congress on foreign matters, lawmakers are uneasy at the idea of a premature pull-out that risks Afghanistan descending further into chaos.

After countless thousands of civilian and military deaths — and more than $1 trillion in US cash — US officials are wary of repeating the end of the Vietnam War where the US-backed government collapsed as America hastily pulled out. “It’s time” to end the Afghanistan war,” Trump said, “Our troops have fought with unmatched valour” but now “the hour has come to at least try for peace”.

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