Pakistan says US troop withdrawal 'step forward' in Afghan peace effort - International

The Taliban are already stronger today than they have been since their ouster in 2001, controlling or holding sway over almost half the country.

The Pentagon is developing plans to withdraw up to half of the 14,000 American troops serving in Afghanistan, U.S. officials said Thursday, marking a sharp change in the Trump administration's policy aimed at forcing the Taliban to the peace table after more than 17 years of war.

"I believe the Taliban will see this as a reason to stall, and therefore it disincentivizes the Taliban to actually talk to the Afghan government, which it has refused to do", said Bill Roggio an Afghanistan analyst with the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

In recent months, however, there has been a renewed effort to make progress on peace talks with the Taliban. The US is by far the biggest and most influential member of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

Bill Roggio, an Afghanistan analyst with the US-based Foundation for Defence of Democracies, said: "A complete withdrawal of United States forces would very likely cause the Taliban to make gains in key areas throughout Afghanistan".

The talks in Abu Dhabi earlier this week, with peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad leading the USA side, were also attended by Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates. Three U.S. presidents have pledged to bring peace to Afghanistan, either by adding or withdrawing troops, by engaging the Taliban or shunning them, and by struggling to combat widespread corruption in the government.

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The already worsening security situation in Afghanistan is likely to be exacerbated by a USA troop reduction, according to analysts. Observers, however, have warned that the USA withdrawal could have a "devastating" impact on stability in Kabul and any such move would offer Taliban militants a psychological edge in the conflict and propaganda victory.

Trump's reported decision apparently surprised Afghan officials, even though the US president had previously voiced opposition to the USA war effort there. Speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, the official said Taliban officials think the promised departure could help the peace process because it could "lead to trust building that the US wants a political solution".

On Friday, Harun Chakhansuri, a top spokesman for Afghan president Ashraf Ghani, however, told media that Washington's drawdown would have no major impact on Afghanistan's ability to defend itself.

Several high ranking Afghan military officials said the morale of Afghanistan's under-trained and poorly equipped security forces is already at a dangerously low ebb.

"It's becoming clear that Kabul was blindsided", says Smith.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
 
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