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US troops to begin Afghanistan withdrawal within 10 days, Esper says

Military camp at Bagram, Afghanistan (Derrick C. Goode/WikiCommons)
March 02, 2020

Defense Secretary Mark Esper notified the first U.S. commander in Afghanistan that his forces can proceed with plans to withdraw from the country on Monday.

Esper announced he had notified Gen. Scott Miller, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, that Miller has Esper’s approval to begin pulling troops from the county. Esper described the order as a good-faith measure towards a U.S.-Taliban peace agreement during a Pentagon press conference.

“We are going to show good faith and begin withdrawing our troops,” Esper said. “My instruction to the commander was: ‘Let’s get moving. Let’s show our full faith and effort to do that.’”

The order for the U.S. troop withdrawal comes just days after the U.S. and Taliban signed peace terms that would allow the U.S. to bring about the end of its military presence in Afghanistan and promote further intra-Afghan negotiations between the Taliban and the U.S.-backed Afghan government.

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Esper indicated the first phase of troop withdrawals will start “within 10 days.”

As part of the agreement, the U.S. plans to bring its troop presence from around 13,000 troops down to around 8,600 troops within the first 135 days of the agreement. A full troop withdrawal is expected to take around 14 months and is predicated on the Taliban’s adherence to the peace terms and the overall success of the agreement.

“This is going to be a step-by-step process, and we’ll evaluate each day,” Esper said.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley indicated the peace agreement is aimed at an overall reduction in violence but not a complete end to violence in the country. Milley said a complete end to the violence in Afghanistan is “probably not going to happen.”

Fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security forces was reported on Monday and the Taliban has indicated it would not partake in further intra-Afghan negotiations until it sees its imprisoned members released, Reuters reported.

Throughout his presidency, President Donald Trump has called for an end to the more than 18-year war in Afghanistan. Critics of the new U.S.-Taliban arrangement have warned that the deal would allow too many concessions to the Taliban and permit them to regain power in the country. While the agreement does limit the Taliban from taking some actions to harbor foreign terrorism, critics have also warned that the deal lacks enforcement mechanisms to hold the Taliban to account.

“Releasing thousands of Taliban fighters, lifting sanctions on international terrorists, and agreeing to withdraw all U.S. forces in exchange for promises from the Taliban with no disclosed mechanism to verify Taliban compliance, would be reminiscent of the worst aspects of the Obama Iran nuclear deal,” said fellow Republican and House GOP conference chair Rep. Liz Cheney.