Sun, Dec 23, 2018 - Page 4 News List

Taliban welcome news of US pullout

BLOW TO MORALE:A Taliban source said it might give the militants trust that the US wants a ‘political solution,’ while Afghan officials recalled the fall of South Vietnam

AP, ISLAMABAD

Afghan horse riders compete for the goat during a friendly buzkashi match on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan, on Friday. Buzkashi is the national sport of Afghanistan, in which players compete to place a goat carcass into a goal circle. It was banned under Taliban rule.

Photo: AP

The Taliban welcomed news of the US’ plan to withdraw half its troops in Afghanistan by the summer as Afghan generals warned that it would be a blow to the morale of the country’s beleaguered security forces, who come under daily attacks from the insurgent fighters.

The announcement appears certain to complicate efforts to reach a peace deal, mostly because it gives the Taliban leverage by allowing them to hold off until a total US withdrawal or step up their demands over a weakened Afghan government.

“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.

Afghanistan’s security forces rely heavily on US airpower against both the Taliban and an upstart Islamic State group affiliate.

Afghan military officials said that the announcement by US President Donald Trump’s administration comes as Afghanistan’s security is at its worst since 2014, when more than 100,000 NATO troops pulled out of the country and handed off security to Afghan forces.

The US and NATO retreated into a training and advisory role.

“A complete withdrawal of US forces would very likely cause the Taliban to make gains in key areas throughout Afghanistan,” Roggio said. “This likely would cause the general collapse of the [Afghan National Security and Defense Force] as a cohesive fighting force and lead to the return of the warlords.”

Trump considers the war in Afghanistan a lost cause and has long pushed to pull the troops out. His decision was made public a few hours after he abruptly announced that the US would withdraw its troops from Syria.

Trump’s state of mind is sure to have given a sense of urgency to US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad, who has been working to reach a negotiated end to the US’ longest war and has been pushing for a deal by April.

In an interview with Afghanistan’s TOLO TV on Thursday — hours before the withdrawal plans were announced — he said that Trump had campaigned for president on a promise to end the Afghan war, which has already cost US taxpayers nearly US$1 trillion.

More than 2,400 US soldiers have also died in Afghanistan since the 2001 US-led invasion.

A Taliban official said that the announcement was a positive step.

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,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

However, there was no sign that the Taliban was ready to move on the two major sticking points: direct talks with the Afghan government and a cease fire while the two sides negotiate Khalilzad’s so-called “roadmap for the future of Afghanistan.”

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

The morale of Afghanistan’s undertrained and poorly equipped security forces is already at a dangerously low ebb, several high-ranking Afghan military officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The troops routinely complain about reinforcements that arrive too late, equipment that fails and even running out of food.

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