A significant reduction in the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan won't impact upon the security of the war-torn country, a spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani said on December 21.
It was the first official Afghan reaction to reports in the U.S. media that President Donald Trump is considering a "significant" withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, with some quoting unnamed officials as saying the decision has already been made.
"If they withdraw from Afghanistan it will not have a security impact because in the last four and a half years the Afghans have been in full control," Ghani's spokesman, Haroon Chakhansuri, said via social media.
The Wall Street Journal on December 20 quoted an unnamed senior U.S. official as saying that Trump “wants to see viable options about how to bring conflicts to a close.”
The AFP news agency quoted a U.S. official as saying the decision has already been made for a “significant” U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.
"That decision has been made. There will be a significant withdrawal," AFP quoted the official as saying.
CNN also reported that Trump has already ordered the military to make plans for a withdrawal of perhaps half of the current 14,000-strong force.
The reports came a day after Trump surprised and angered many U.S. lawmakers, administration officials, and international allies by saying he was pulling “all” U.S. troops out of Syria, where they are leading a multinational coalition backing local forces in the fight against Islamic State (IS) militants.
It also came shortly before Trump announced that his defense secretary, Jim Mattis, would be leaving his post at the end of February. U.S. media are reporting that Mattis opposed Trump's move to withdraw from Syria. In his resignation letter, Mattis said his views were not fully "aligned" with those of the president.
The WSJ report also cited a figure of about 7,000 troops, while those by AFP and Reuters did not specify a time frame or provide further details on numbers of troops. The Pentagon declined to comment.
A U.S.-led coalition has been in Afghanistan since 2001, when it drove the Taliban from power after Al-Qaeda militants -- whose leaders were being sheltered in Afghanistan -- carried out the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
However, the Western-backed government in Kabul has struggled to counter attacks from the Taliban and other militant groups since the withdrawal of most NATO combat troops in 2014.
U.S. officials have been attempting to push the Taliban to the negotiating table with the government in Kabul. Many Taliban leaders insist that U.S. forces depart before substantial peace talks can take place.
A Huge Mistake
Mohammad Taqi, a Florida-based political analyst, told RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal that a rapid U.S. withdrawal would be “a huge mistake.”
“If we look at it in context of talks with the Taliban, then it seems Taliban have already strengthened their position. Now the reports of [a U.S. withdrawal] show a weakening stance by the U.S., which could subsequently undermine Afghan government’s position.”
Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special peace envoy for Afghanistan, on December 20 questioned the Taliban's determination to end the 17-year war after the group's representatives refused to meet with an Afghan government-backed negotiating team.
Khalilzad said that, while he was certain the Afghan government wanted to end the conflict, it was unclear whether the Taliban were "genuinely seeking peace."
Khalilzad's remarks came following his latest face-to-face meeting earlier this week with the Taliban, which was held in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates and was also attended by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
The U.A.E. hailed the talks as "positive for all parties concerned," while the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Khalid bin Salman, claimed the meetings will produce "very positive results by the beginning of next year."
Meanwhile, Trump defended his unexpected decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, a move met with concern by members of the anti-Islamic State coalition but was lauded by Russia.
Trump said in several tweets early on December 20 that his decision was in line with his promise from his 2016 presidential campaign to withdraw from Syria.
He said the United States should not become "the Policeman of the Middle East," and it was "time for others to finally fight."
With reporting by The Wall Street Journal and Reuters