Taliban cheers Trump vowing early troop withdrawal, Kabul sceptic

Group welcomes announcement as a ‘positive step’ while gov’t says premature withdrawal may have negative consequences.

Trump's tweet came as Taliban and Afghan government-appointed negotiators have been holding historic intra-Afghan peace talks in Qatar [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

The Taliban has welcomed a tweet from US President Donald Trump in which he has promised to have the last of American troops out of Afghanistan by Christmas this year.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid on Thursday said Trump’s statement was welcome and he considered it a “positive step” for the implementation of the peace agreement between the United States and the Taliban signed in Qatar earlier this year.

The Taliban is “committed to the contents of the agreement and hope for good and positive relations with all countries, including the US, in the future”, he said.

But Abdullah Abdullah, the head of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, said a “premature” withdrawal of US troops would have negative consequences for the war-torn country.

“It will take a little bit [of] time for us to digest it,” Abdullah said at an event organised by a think-tank in India’s capital, New Delhi.

“It will happen one day, of course, and Afghanistan should be able to stand on its own feet, but if it is premature, it will have its consequences.”

The Afghan presidential palace has so far remained tight-lipped about Trump’s tweet late on Wednesday, which said, “We should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas.”

“Nineteen years is enough. They’re acting as policemen, OK? They’re not acting as troops,” Trump later told Fox Business Channel.

No breakthrough yet in intra-Afghan talks

If the withdrawal happens, it would be months ahead of the schedule laid out in the US-Taliban deal which said the US troops would be out of Afghanistan in 14 months, provided the Taliban promised not to allow foreign groups to launch attacks on the Afghan soil.

Trump’s surprise tweet came as the Taliban and the Afghan government-appointed negotiating team have been holding historic peace talks in Qatar’s capital, Doha, for nearly a month.

Those talks have been painfully slow as both sides have become bogged down on the intricacies of how they would go forward with reaching an agreement.

Still, both sides have stayed at the negotiating table even as Washington’s peace envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, returned to the region last week.

On Thursday, Khalilzad was in Pakistan with General Austin Miller, the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, as they met Pakistan’s military chief General Qamar Jaaved Bajwa.

Pakistan has helped shepherd the Taliban to the negotiating table and its role is seen as critical for lasting peace in Afghanistan.

Even as the warring sides meet in Doha to map out what a post-conflict Afghanistan might look like, Washington and NATO have already begun reducing their troops’ numbers.

Washington is now down to below 5,000 troops from an estimated 13,000 when it signed the agreement with the Taliban on February 29.

But NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance should decide collectively to leave together “when the time is right”, based on the security situation on the ground.

“NATO is in Afghanistan to prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a safe haven for international terrorists,” he said in Brussels on Thursday.

Since the US-Taliban agreement, the Taliban has not killed any international soldiers but intensified attacks against the Afghan forces.

Fighting in the country persists as the Taliban continues to reject a ceasefire with Kabul despite the start of the peace negotiations in Doha.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies