US Starts Troop Pullout, Seeks End To Afghan Leaders’ Feud


WASHINGTON – The United States began withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, the US military said on Tuesday, taking a step forward on its peace deal with the Taliban while also praising Afghan Presi­dent Ashraf Ghani’s promise to start releasing Taliban prisoners after he had delayed for over a week.

The US-Taliban deal signed on February 29 was touted as Wash­ington’s effort to end 18 years of war in Afghanistan. The next cru­cial step was to be intra-Afghan talks in which all factions includ­ing the Taliban would negotiate a road map for their country’s future.

But Ghani and his main po­litical rival, Abdullah Abdullah, were each sworn in as president in separate ceremonies on Monday. Abdullah and the elections com­plaints commission had charged fraud in last year’s vote. The du­elling inaugurations have thrown plans for talks with the Taliban into chaos, although Ghani said Tuesday that he’d start putting to­gether a negotiating team.

The disarray on the Afghan government side is indicative of the uphill task facing Washing­ton’s peace envoy Zalmay Khalil­zad as he tries to get Afghanistan’s bickering leadership to come to­gether. In an early Tuesday tweet, Khalilzad said he hoped the two leaders can “come to an agree­ment on an inclusive and broadly accepted government. We will con­tinue to assist.”

US military spokesman in Af­ghanistan Sonny Leggett said in a statement on Tuesday that the mil­itary had begun its “conditions-based reduction of forces to 8,600 over 135 days.”

Currently, the US has about 13,000 soldiers in Afghanistan — 8,000 of whom are involved in training and advising Afghani­stan’s National Security Forces, while about 5,000 are involved in anti-terror operations and militar­ily supporting the Afghan army when they are requested.

Ghani had been dragging his feet on releasing some 5,000 Taliban prisoners, something agreed to in the US-Taliban deal. Ghani prom­ised Monday to announce a decree to free the prisoners, after the US and a number of foreign dignitaries appeared to back his claim to the presidency by sending their repre­sentatives to his inauguration.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released a statement Monday saying, “We also welcome President Ghani’s announcement that he will issue a decree March 10 on Taliban prisoner release.”

Taliban officials said late Mon­day that a flurry of biometric iden­tifications were being conducted on Taliban prisoners, hinting at a mass release, according to prison­ers currently in lockup. The Tali­ban officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorised to talk to the media.

Pompeo also said he “strongly opposed” the establishment of a parallel government in Kabul, de­spite the early signs of one emerg­ing. Abdullah had quickly sent his vice-presidents to occupy the of­ficial offices on Monday, ahead of Ghani’s plan to send his vice presi­dents to their offices Tuesday.

Pompeo warned against “any use of force to resolve political dif­ferences.” Both candidates — but particularly Abdullah — are backed by warlords with heavily armed mi­litias, underscoring fears they could use force to back their candidate.

The US has said its partial troop withdrawal over an 18-month period provided for in the deal will be linked to the Taliban keeping their promises to help fight terror in Afghanistan, but not to the suc­cess of talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

On the weekend, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed said the insurgent group was com­mitted to their agreement with the United States and called on Wash­ington to do its part to make sure their prisoners were freed.

Be Part of Quality Journalism

Quality journalism takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce and despite all the hardships we still do it. Our reporters and editors are working overtime in Kashmir and beyond to cover what you care about, break big stories, and expose injustices that can change lives. Today more people are reading Kashmir Observer than ever, but only a handful are paying while advertising revenues are falling fast.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.