Trump's tweet seeking US troops return from Afghanistan by Christmas complicates Taliban talks, irks negotiator
President Donald Trump said earlier this year that he plans to bring back American troops from Afghanistan by the time of the election which is now less than 20 days away. But according to the Afghanistan government’s chief negotiator with the Taliban, Trump’s desire has given the extremist groups an upper hand in the power-sharing talks that are intended to bring to an end the country’s two-decade-old civil war.
The US-Taliban deal of February called for a phased withdrawal of the American troops through the middle of next year if the Taliban delivered on certain promises. While that deal itself made many experts apprehensive that it was a foreign policy gamble on Washington’s behalf and eventually would give the Taliban an international legitimacy, the president’s tweet posted last week saying America’s troops “should” be home by Christmas has made things more confusing. Other sources in the administration said the year-end goal was 2,500 and the Pentagon said it was still working as per the original schedule.
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
Trump’s new indication has made the situation in Afghanistan look tricky since the power-sharing talks have only started recently. Taliban attacks on Afghan national troops are continuing and there is no sign yet that the extremist group has met the promise of breaking with jihadi groups like Al Qaeda and Islamic State, both of which are operating within Afganistan’s borders.
Trump tweet created more uncertainty, says Afghanistan negotiator
In an interview with the Financial Times that got published on Thursday, October 15, Abdullah Abdullah — who led Kabul’s delegation in talks with the Taliban — said Trump’s recent tweet has created more uncertainty over America’s intentions and bolstered the Taliban's negotiating power. “Nobody has given any clarity” about the troops’ reduction, Abdullah, the 60-year-old chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation and former chief executive of Afghanistan’s Unity Government, said. “If the US withdraws, then [the Taliban] can come back by force. They might see it in their advantage,” he added.
Abdullah’s fears were not without a basis. The Taliban, who have been calling for America’s withdrawal on a priority basis, said after Trump’s latest announcement that the looming departure of the American troops from the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” — the group’s preferred name for the country — is a major move towards realizing the February peace deal made in Doha, Qatar. Mohammad Naeem, a spokesperson for the Taliban, said in a statement Trump’s announcement was “a positive step towards the implementation of (the) Doha agreement”. The Pentagon’s stance that it was still working on the original timetable showed that the administration was still not speaking in a single voice.
Gen Mark Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said this week that Washington was trying to cut its forces deployed in Afghanistan from around 12,000 service members at the beginning of 2020 to about 4,500. He though did not reveal any details over a timeline of a faster drawdown.
Trump withdrew troops from norther Syria last October
Trump has always spoken in favor of withdrawing troops from America’s “endless wars” overseas and it was in the middle of October last year that he had ordered withdrawal of troops from northern Syria — a move that earned him a massive backlash both at home and abroad. However, the poll-bound president’s emphasis on withdrawing troops from Afghanistan has been seen by many as a move to nullify accusations that he did not condemn Russia even after it allegedly paid the Taliban to eliminate American troops deployed in Afghanistan. It is almost two decades since the US has remained stuck in Afghanistan militarily since it launched an attack there to avenge the attacks on September 11, 2001, that killed nearly 3,000 people dead.