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India can play ‘vital role’ for Afghan peace, top negotiator says

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Afghan officials downplay US president’s announcement on early troop withdrawal

KABUL: Afghan government officials on Thursday said US President Donald Trump’s announcement that all American troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan by Christmas — sooner than previously outlined — would have no impact on the war-torn country’s security.

In an unexpected move, Trump said in a Twitter post that the remaining US service personnel stationed in Afghanistan should be “home by Christmas.”

The pullout had earlier been scheduled for spring 2021, following a US-Taliban deal in February to end the protracted conflict in Afghanistan, which started after the American invasion in 2001 that removed the Taliban from power.

“The withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan will have no effect on the situation of Afghanistan and our security forces have the capacity to defend the country without the presence of foreign troops,” Fawad Aman, a spokesman for the defense ministry, told Arab News.

He said that for the past six months Afghan security forces had been planning and conducting offensives independently, without assistance from US-led troops.

The US and NATO had pledged to provide support for Afghan troops, despite their soldiers’ departure, until “the threat of terrorism in Afghanistan and in the region is annihilated,” Aman added.

In a video message, Afghan army chief, Yasin Zia, said that Afghan forces had earned the “ability to foil enemy attacks” and were equipped with sophisticated ground and aerial weapons and aircraft which were unmatched in the region.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s office was unavailable for comment.

Trump’s decision came as intra-Afghan talks were taking place in Doha, Qatar, where nearly a month ago Taliban and Afghan government negotiators were brought to the table to decide the country’s future political setup.

Discussions have lately reached a stalemate, which may turn Afghanistan “into a Syria, if each side insists on being right on everything. It would be repeating the errors of the past,” Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy for Afghanistan, told Afghan media on Wednesday.

The Taliban, meanwhile, welcomed Trump’s decision. The group’s spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, told Arab News: “The Islamic Emirate welcomes this announcement and considers it as a positive step in the implementation of the agreement between the Islamic Emirate and America.”

The troop withdrawal was Trump’s electoral promise in 2016, which he appears to be trying to fulfill as he seeks reelection in November.

Hours before Trump’s tweet, US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said the US would reduce the number of troops it had in Afghanistan to 2,500 early next year. Currently, some 5,000 American soldiers remain in the country. As per the US-Taliban accord, 4,000 have already left since February.

Torek Farhadi, a former adviser to the Afghan government, said Trump’s announcement gave the “Taliban an edge, at least psychologically, as they see the republic (Ghani’s government) side very dependent on the US, both financially and militarily.”

With no sign of any breakthrough in intra-Afghan talks, he warned the war could go on for years if Afghan leaders and warring parties “don’t start to find a solution for peace right there, when they are at the negotiations table.”

As Ghani traveled to Qatar to help with the stalemate in talks, Farhadi said Trump’s team might have briefed him about the US president’s decision.

Officials in Kabul refused to comment on whether Trump had informed the Afghan government about his decision.

Zabihullah Pakteen, an analyst, told Arab News that Trump’s move was “a surprise both within US military hierarchy and in Afghanistan” and could be detrimental to the peace process. “The withdrawal of troops before the deadline throws the peace process in jeopardy,” he said.
 

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