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23 December 2018, 07:49 | Tara Lloyd
US to withdraw 7000 troops from Afghanistan
The U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation formally concluded their combat mission in 2014, but American and allied troops remain, conducting strikes on the Islamic State group and the Taliban and working to train and build the Afghan military.
Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Saturday welcomed US President Donald Trump's decision on withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan and said it will help move forward the ongoing efforts for peace talks in Afghanistan.
Observers in Islamabad and Kabul believe the reduction in troops followed the direct talks between the U.S. and Taliban, as recommended by Pakistan has elevated its standing in the region.
But there was no sign the Taliban were ready to move on the two major sticking points: Direct talks with the Afghan government and a cease fire while the two sides negotiate Khalilzad's so-called "roadmap for the future of Afghanistan".
Bill Roggio, an Afghanistan analyst with the US-based Foundation for Defence of Democracies, said: "A complete withdrawal of USA forces would very likely cause the Taliban to make gains in key areas throughout Afghanistan".
The announcement seems certain to complicate efforts to reach a peace deal, mostly because it gives the Taliban leverage by allowing them to hold off until a total USA withdrawal, or step up their demands over a weakened Afghan government. Three U.S. presidents have pledged to bring peace to Afghanistan, either by adding or withdrawing troops, by engaging the Taliban or shunning them, and by struggling to combat widespread corruption in the government.
USA troops invaded Afghanistan in November 2001 in response to the September 11 attacks.
Michael Kugelman, South Asia associate at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, says the timing of Trump's troop-withdrawal decision "is breathtakingly bad". Observers, however, have warned that the United States withdrawal could have a "devastating" impact on stability in Kabul and any such move would offer Taliban militants a psychological edge in the conflict and propaganda victory.
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An Afghan official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told RFE/RL that Trump's reported decision suggests "some serious progress with talks" in the U.A.E, without elaborating.
Trump's reported decision apparently surprised Afghan officials, even though the US president had previously voiced opposition to the USA war effort there.
Several high ranking Afghan military officials, who spoke on condition they not be identified because they were not authorized to speak to the media, said the morale of Afghanistan's undertrained and poorly equipped security forces was already at a dangerously low ebb.
"Considering the decision as a serious USA endgame step, political elites in Kabul will probably aim to close ranks and raise questions about the timing and commitments made to maintain stability", says Omar Samad, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Atlantic Council and former Afghan diplomat.
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