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US pledges half troops pullout from Afghanistan by April: Taliban claims

AT Monitoring Desk

KABUL: A Taliban official said on Wednesday that the United States had promised to withdraw half of its troops from Afghanistan by the end of April during talks last month, RIA news agency reported, more than past estimates of the planned pull-out.

There was no immediate reaction from the Pentagon or the U.S. Department of State to the comments from a member of a Taliban delegation visiting Moscow.

But they came a day after President Donald Trump told Americans his administration had accelerated talks for a political settlement in Afghanistan and would be able to reduce U.S. troops there as negotiations advance to end America’s longest war.

U.S. and Taliban delegations met in Qatar in January and are due to meet again in February. A U.S. official at last month’s meeting said significant progress was made, though more talks were needed on U.S. demands for a Taliban ceasefire before any withdrawal and other issues.

“Yes, the Americans told us (last month) that they would withdraw half of their troops from the beginning of February to the end of April,” Abdul Salam Hanafi was quoted as saying by Russian news agency RIA.

Hanafi said Washington and the Taliban had also agreed that all foreign troops would eventually leave, and that Afghanistan would never be used as a base for attacks on the United States.

“The timeline (of the withdrawal) will be discussed at future meetings,” Hanafi said.

The Taliban militants are in Moscow for talks with Afghan opposition politicians, including former President Hamid Karzai – discussions that the current Afghan government has said is not in the country’s best interests.

This comes as US President Donald Trump said his administration is holding constructive talks with stakeholders in Afghanistan, including with the Taliban, and that it was now time to try for peace.

Trump said in his State of the Union speech that as negotiations with the Taliban continue, the United States will be able to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan and focus on counterterrorism efforts.

Trump says that he accelerated the negotiations with the Taliban to reach a political settlement.

“We do not know whether we will achieve an agreement — but we do know that after two decades of war the hour has come to at least try for peace. And the other side would like to do the same thing. It is time,” Trump said.

“The opposing side is also very happy to be negotiating,” he added.

“Our brave troops have now been fighting in the middle east for almost 19 years. In Afghanistan and Iraq, nearly 7,000 American heroes have given their lives,” he said.

“More than 52,000 Americans have been badly wounded. We have spent more than $7 trillion in the middle east.”

“As a candidate for president, I loudly pledged a new approach. Great nations do not fight endless wars.

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