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Trump announces full troop withdrawal from Afghanistan by Christmas

Amid a nascent peace parley, a dwindling US military pressure will cede valuable leverage over the militants, which could give them a good reason to refrain from staying at the negotiating table

AT News

KABUL: President Donald Trump of the United States in a surprising announcement said that all US troops in Afghanistan should be “home by Christmas”, despite a landmark deal between the United States and the Taliban in February that sets a full withdrawal to take place by May 2021.

His abrupt exit plan to disentangle a 19-year military presence has sent shockwaves across the White House while the Taliban with whom the Afghan government is negotiating a political settlement to the war have greeted it with great glee. A premature withdrawal of foreign troops could potentially jeopardize the complicated peace negotiations with the Taliban.

But, the Taliban enthusiastically greeted the plan on Thursday which comes as little surprise as an early pullout of foreign troops will cede considerable degree of leverage over the militants.

The United States is basically going astray from its February peace agreement with the Taliban, when it committed to withdraw from Afghanistan all military forces of the United States and its allies within 14 months following the announcement of the agreement.

Amid a nascent peace parley and dwindling US military pressure, the militant group would certainly get an upper hand in peace talks with the Afghan government or even refrain from staying at the negotiating table.

Since mid September, the Afghan government and Taliban negotiators have been trying to hammer out a new political settlement for the country. But peace talks have been progressing slowly, with negotiators still trying to lay out the ground rules for their discussion. Taliban have been imposing several conditions in the prelude to peace talks, which have caused constant delays, with slender success. Militants are believed to be merely marking time until the departure of US troops, which has been given a momentum by Trump’s new withdrawal plans.

The start of intra-Afghan peace talks marked a deadly escalation of violence and hostilities inside Afghanistan, with the militants increasing their attacks on civilians and the military in recent month. Many believe Taliban are seeking leverage in the peace talks by intensifying violence. But the US ambivalence in holding its end of the bargain gives a good reason for the Taliban to continue with their belligerence.

Trump’s impulsive announcement comes few days after his special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said that a complete drawdown from Afghanistan will be based on the implementation of the US-Taliban peace deal which requires the Taliban to observe ceasefire and reach a negotiated settlement in talks with the Afghan government.

Military experts are raising concerns about the ramifications of executing a much earlier withdrawal. And many American officials say they had been taken aback by the announcement and that it would be impossible to pull out 5,000 US troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year and dismantle the US military headquarters. They suggest Trump is trying to deflect news attention to coronavirus.

Trump’s new deadline has taken his NATO allies by surprise too. In response to his new plan, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance would have to decide on when to leave Afghanistan.

The United States has about 4,500 troops on the ground in Afghanistan, reduced from over 12,000 when the U.S.-Taliban deal was signed in February. The White House reiterated Trump’s plans on Thursday morning, saying U.S. troops in Afghanistan “are coming home by the end of the year.”

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