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US General: Current conditions ‘don’t merit’ troop withdrawal from Afghanistan

U.S. Army Gen. Joseph Votel, U.S. Central Command commander, speaks to the press at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., Aug. 08, 2018. (U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Angelita M. Lawrence/Department of Defense)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

U.S. Army General Joseph Votel, head of the U.S. Central Command, has said that the current political situation in Afghanistan and the status of negotiations with the Taliban currently under way “don’t merit” a troop withdrawal, despite President Donald Trump’s goal of a drawdown.

“These decisions have to be based more on conditions than specific times” and must “pivot off political progress,” Votel said during a House Armed Services Committee hearing in Washington on March 7.

His remarks come as U.S. and Taliban negotiators are holding peace talks in Qatar aimed at ending the nearly 18-year war in Afghanistan, America’s longest.

The government in Kabul has been absent from the talks, with the Taliban insisting it will not engage with a Western “puppet.”

Despite Kabul’s frustration at being sidelined, Votel said President Ashraf Ghani was being “well informed” and that the “actual initiation of these discussions was done” with his “knowledge and support.”

During a previous round of talks in Qatar’s capital, Doha, in January, U.S. and Taliban negotiators said they had reached the “basic framework” of a peace agreement.

U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said on March 5 that the two sides were hammering out the details of four “interconnected issues that are going to compose any future agreement,” listing them as “terrorism,” “troop withdrawal,” “intra-Afghan dialogue,” and a “cease-fire.”