Hardly a week has passed since the conditional peace treaty between the U.S. and the Taliban, and American troops are already leaving the country.
Despite evidence that the Taliban have resumed attacks on Afghan government forces, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper has given the order for the United States to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.s.
Esper, speaking to the media on Monday, said that the troop withdrawal order to Army Gen. Scott Miller, the commander of U.S. forces in Kabul, is in keeping with the peace deal with the Taliban. The peace deal calls for an American troop reduction to begin within 10 days of the deal’s signing.
“My instructions to the commander [were]: ‘Let’s get moving, let’s show our full faith and effort to do that,'” Esper said in Washington with the Joint Chiefs General Milley also in attendance. “I’ve said on many occasions that I’m comfortable we can still conduct all the missions we need to conduct [with] 8,600 [troops].”
The Americans are to cut 4,000 troops in Afghanistan within the first 135 days according to the terms of the deal. There are currently 13,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan; the remaining 8,600 would leave within 14 months.
Despite the show of good faith by the U.S., both Esper and Milley advised to temper any expectations of lasting peace after a bomb killed three Afghans and wounded 11 in Khost province. “To think that there’s going to be an absolute cessation of violence in Afghanistan, that is probably not going to happen,” Army General Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, told reporters at the Pentagon press conference.
“To think that it’s going to go to zero immediately, that is probably not going to happen. It’s probably not going to go to zero,” Milley added.
Monday’s attack by a bomber on a motorcycle at a soccer game is being investigated. However, both Esper and Milley said there wasn’t sufficient information to place blame yet. “We don’t know exactly who did that yet,” Milley said. The Taliban have denied responsibility for the attack
The bombing came just hours after the Taliban announced that the “reduction in violence,” the partial truce that they declared for a week before the peace deal’s signing, is now over. The Taliban have ordered their fighters to resume attacks on Afghan forces loyal to Kabul’s “U.S. puppet administration.” However, they also ordered them to refrain from targeting the U.S. and international forces.
The second snag in the agreement has come from the Afghan government, which so far has refused to abide by the agreement to release 5,000 Taliban held in prisons in exchange for the Taliban releasing 1,000 government troops. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani rejected that proposal stating that he had “made no commitment to do so.”
“It is not in the authority of the United States to decide, they are only a facilitator,” Ghani said. Later he added that “the people of Afghanistan need to believe that we’ve gone from war to peace, and not that the agreement will be either a Trojan horse or the beginning of a much worse phase of the conflict.”
“We’ve got to work our way through that,” Esper replied when asked of Ghani’s refusal to free the Taliban prisoners. “Our commitment under the agreement was to enable, to facilitate that exchange of persons between the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan, and as I’ve said over and over, it’s all conditions-based.”
As part of the agreement, the United States will withdraw all combat forces, to include contractors, from Afghanistan within 14 months. But this will only happen as long as the Taliban follow the pledges that they agreed to, principally to prevent terrorist groups, such as al-Qaeda, from using the country as a safe haven, as it did on 9/11, to attack American interests.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday and said that the road to this agreement will be long and bumpy, but that all sides can be held accountable.
“It’s going to be rocky and bumpy. No one — no one — is under any false illusion that this won’t be a difficult conversation,” he said. “But that conversation for the first time in almost two decades will be among the Afghan people, and that’s the appropriate place for that conversation to take place.”
Republican lawmakers sent a letter to the administration criticizing the agreement citing that the Taliban have never made any secret that their view of Afghanistan is only that of a “totalitarian Islamic Emirate.” They also criticized the “side deals” or annexes included in the agreement. Pompeo said that there are classified parts of the agreement that will be made available to Congress.