Reports of US troop pullout catches Afghans by surprise

Reports of US troop pullout catches Afghans by surprise

News of President Donald Trump’s plan to withdraw thousands of troops has been met with a mixture of surprise and alarm in Afghanistan, as it comes amid increased Taliban attacks and a renewed US push for a peace deal between the insurgents and the government.

The president’s decision was revealed by US defence officials just days after Mr Trump announced the withdrawal of US soldiers fighting ISIS in Syria and on the same day Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis resigned.

“We have been hearing startled reactions from all sides of the war. Western diplomats, [Afghan presidential] palace officials, and the Taliban themselves were shocked by the announcement,” said Graeme Smith, a senior consultant for the International Crisis Group.

Mr Smith said President Trump’s special envoy for negotiating peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, had told officials in the presidential palace that such a decision was imminent, but they did not take him seriously.

“Senior figures in the Afghan government treated the warnings as a bluff, speculating that Khalilzad was beyond his remit, and the palace made no secret about its scepticism,” he told The National.

“The Afghan government was warned repeatedly that western governments were tired of spending tens of billions annually. The palace was told bluntly that the US was seeking a responsible negotiated exit. But there persisted a mistaken belief among the Kabul elites that the American military wanted a permanent foothold in the country,” Mr Smith said.

The US has about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan working either with a Nato mission to support Afghan forces or in separate counter-terrorism operations. US officials told the New York Times and Wall Street Journalthat about half that number would be withdrawn.

Although it may have come as a surprise, President Ashraf Ghani’s office said the US decision would not affect the security situation in the country.

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