US to reduce troops in Afghanistan to ‘2,500 by early next year’

US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien reveals details about the pace and scope of the troop withdrawal.

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US troops keep watch during an official visit in Farah province, Afghanistan in 2018 [File: James Mackenzie/Reuters]

The United States will reduce its troops in Afghanistan to 2,500 early next year, National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien has said, offering greater detail about the pace and scope of the withdrawal from the US’s longest war.

A landmark deal between the United States and the Taliban in February said that foreign forces will leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which agreed to negotiate a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing formula with the Afghan government.

President Donald Trump and other officials have said that the US will go down to between 4,000 and 5,000 troops in Afghanistan around November.

Beyond that, officials have said that a reduction will depend on conditions in Afghanistan.

“When President Trump took office, there were over 10,000 American troops in Afghanistan. As of today there are under 5,000 and that will go to 2,500 by early next year,” O’Brien said at an event at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas on Wednesday.

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Marine General Kenneth McKenzie, head of US Central Command, speaking with US troops while visiting a base in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, [File: Phil Stewart/Reuters]

The White House’s plan for the withdrawal will almost certainly be subject to review should Trump lose his bid for a second term in next month’s election.

Taliban and Afghan government-backed negotiators have agreed on a broad code of conduct to advance the intra-Afghan peace talks in Qatar, even as key differences between the two warring sides remain, three official sources told Reuters News Agency on Tuesday.

A ceasefire is a top priority for the Afghan officials and the Western diplomats who are facilitating these talks.

While the talks have been taking place in Qatar’s capital Doha, many Afghan soldiers and Taliban fighters have been killed in clashes. Dozens of civilians have also died in recent weeks.

“Ultimately, the Afghans themselves are going to have to work out an accord, a peace agreement … 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,” O’Brien said.

About 2,400 US service members have been killed in the Afghan conflict and many thousands more wounded.

Wednesday also marks 19 years since the US invaded Afghanistan to topple the Taliban rulers who had harboured al-Qaeda members who attacked the US.

Source: Reuters