The Taliban has welcomed the tweet by President Donald Trump pledging for U.S. troops in Afghanistan to return home before the end of the year, amid concerns that such a move could jeopardize the deal agreed earlier this year aimed at ending two decades of conflict.
Just hours after Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, had said that U.S forces in the country would be halved to 2,500 by early 2021, Trump tweeted on Wednesday: “We should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas!”
The Doha agreement struck in the Qatari capital between the Taliban and the U.S. in February was intended to allow the drawdown of foreign forces by May 2021, in exchange for security guarantees and a pledge by the group to negotiate a permanent ceasefire with the Afghan government.
It is not clear if Trump’s tweet was an order or an aspiration, but Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement that it “welcomes these remarks and considers it a positive step for the implementation of the agreement signed between the IEA (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) with the United States.”
However there are fears that Trump’s comment could weaken Kabul’s leverage in delicate negotiations with the Taliban, which is said to hold the upper hand as it seeks to find common ground with the government.
We should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 7, 2020
Remarks of the spokesman of the IEA regarding the announcement of the withdrawal of troops by the US President https://t.co/TAvsECiGqq pic.twitter.com/UulmkQ7dpM
— Zabihullah (..Ø°Ø¨ÙÙÙÙÙÛØ Ø§ÙÙÙ Ù ) (@Zabehulah_M33) October 8, 2020
Video: Japarov supporters clash with opposition groups in Bishkek. (AFP)
Trump’s tweet was “not only detrimental to the Afghan peace process, but perhaps more importantly, it undermines U.S. diplomats currently helping negotiate a very delicate Afghan-Taliban talks in Doha,” said Kabir Taneja, fellow at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) think tank in New Delhi.
“The Taliban are well aware that they hold the stronger leverage in these talks,” he told Newsweek, adding that, “as the Taliban’s tweets show, they have been fast to seize this opportunity as the Taliban have maintained that a full withdrawal of the U.S. is necessary.”
“In fact, this has been a point of contention within the Taliban as well, with some within the group criticizing the leadership for negotiating with an occupying force. Such contradicting messaging from Trump helps the Taliban to fix the fractures within its ranks as well, which in turn gives it even more unparalleled strength in the negotiations.”
The White House’s plan for the drawdown is likely to be reviewed if Trump loses the election on November 3. Despite the Doha agreement, the war shows no sign of ending, with dozens of civilians, Afghan soldiers and Taliban fighters killed in recent weeks.
Last month, U.S. Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad told a House of Representatives committee that an evaluation should be made once U.S. troop numbers had reached 4,500.
Taneja, from the ORF, told Newsweek: “An all-out withdrawal of troops will leave the Afghan military, which is continuously withstanding the worst of Taliban attacks even during the negotiations, perilously exposed.”
On Wednesday, O’Brien told an event at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas that “the Afghans themselves are going to have to work out an accord, a peace agreement.”
He also said “it’s going to be slow progress, it’s going to be hard progress, but we think it’s a necessary step. We think Americans need to come home,” Reuters reported. Newsweek has contacted the White House for comment.
The graph below provided by Statista shows the cost of the war in Afghanistan.
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