Milley challenges Trump’s prediction for the home before Christmas for US troops in Afghanistan
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Mark Milley on Monday reaffirmed the military’s commitment to a conditional withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, despite President Donald Trump’s suggestion last week of a withdrawal by Christmas.
Milley did not specifically refute Trump’s suggestion, made in a Twitter post last wednesday. Instead, he highlighted the February 28 agreement with the Taliban on a possible US withdrawal by next May – and only then if there is a ceasefire and a signed peace accord with the government of Kabul.
“We have a plan, a series of responsible exit options, that was presented to the president,” Milley said in a lengthy interview with NPR, which aired in two segments.
At the time of the Feb. 28 deal, reached during difficult negotiations in Doha, Qatar, “We had roughly around 12,000 US troops, a little better, in Afghanistan,” Milley said.
Those numbers were reduced to around 8,500 by mid-summer, he added.
“We plan to make a responsible and deliberate withdrawal of approximately 4,500 here very soon,” Milley said. “And then future withdrawals will be determined by the president, and I’m not going to divulge specific numbers and what they are.” But the withdrawals would be based on conditions on the ground and whether the Taliban honor their commitments to stop the attacks and sever ties with al-Qaida, he explained.
Trump appeared to take his own national security team off guard last Wednesday with his Twitter post: “We should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan at home by Christmas!”
Earlier Wednesday, White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien told an audience at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas that the number of US troops in Afghanistan should be reduced to 2,500. here early next year.
“When President Trump took office, there were over 10,000 American troops in Afghanistan,” he said. “As of today, there are less than 5,000, and that will drop to 2,500 by early next year.”
Milley would not commit to the 2,500 count by early next year.
“The key here is that we are trying to end a war responsibly, deliberately, and do so under conditions that ensure the security of vital United States national security interests that are at stake in Afghanistan,” he said. he declared.
He cited the terms the Taliban agreed to in negotiations on February 28.
“One of those conditions is to enter the Afghan negotiations,” Milley said. “These are going on right now. This is important.
“Another does not attack American forces; does not carry out major attacks in the main urban areas of Afghanistan; sever ties with al-Qaida. And there are a whole variety of other conditions, ”he added. “So we are closely monitoring all of these conditions.”
Trump’s suggestion that the US military presence in Afghanistan could end by Christmas has sparked a wave of reports about whether the Taliban are now in favor of his re-election.
Over the weekend, the Taliban sought to reverse a statement of support for Trump in November while continuing to endorse the total withdrawal of US troops.
Responding to Trump’s Twitter post last week on troop withdrawals, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid reportedly told CBS News: “We hope he wins the election and ends the US military presence in Afghanistan “.
In his own Twitter post on Sunday, Mujahid said CBS “misinterpreted and published my remarks. Nothing of the sort has been released as made public by them.”
In response, CBS published another report on the phone interview with the Mujahedin on Sunday with a note from the editor acknowledging that the initial quote attributed to him was in fact spoken by another anonymous senior Taliban official.
However, the CBS report added additional quotes from Mujahid’s interview that appeared to support Trump’s re-election.
“We think Trump is going to win the next election because he has proven himself to be a politician who has fulfilled all the big promises he made to the American people, even though he may have missed a few small ones things, “Mujahid said on CBS.
Mujahid added that Trump “has fulfilled the greatest promises, so it is possible that the American people, who have suffered disappointments in the past, will once again trust Trump for his decisive actions,” according to the CBS report. “Other politicians, including [former Vice President Joe] Biden chants unrealistic slogans. “
In a statement to CBS and Axios on Saturday, Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh dismissed the Taliban spokesman’s comments.
“We reject their support, and the Taliban must know that the president will always protect American interests by any means necessary, unlike Joe Biden, who opposed the elimination of Osama bin Laden and Qasem Soleimani,” Murtaugh said.
Trump has repeatedly said his goal is to keep US forces away from “endless wars,” but his tweet about the possibility of bringing troops home to Afghanistan by Christmas elicited a mixed reaction .
Afghan officials have expressed concern over apparent contradictions in US policy as Afghan security forces face continued Taliban attacks, which have clouded prospects for a ceasefire and peace agreement .
In an interview with Indian news agency Asian News International on Saturday, Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the Kabul government’s High Council for National Reconciliation, said: there is no need for international troops. … Premature withdrawal – will it have an impact or not? Certainly. “
But Nate Anderson, executive director of Concerned Veterans for America, said in a statement, “Not only is this what the American people want, it’s what our men and women in uniform deserve. A US troop presence in Afghanistan serves no national interest, but it puts our troops at risk and wastes taxpayer dollars without making us safer or more prosperous. “
At the Brookings Institution, Michael O’Hanlon, senior researcher and military analyst, wrote last Friday: “Perhaps sensing electoral disaster and seeking a Hail Mary, President Trump recently tweeted that US troops in Afghanistan should go home by Christmas “.
After a Christmas withdrawal, “we should expect a multi-front Taliban attack similar to the Viet Cong offensive on Tet in Vietnam in 1968, designed to intimidate the Afghan ruling classes into flight or surrender, and the security forces in disbandment, ”he said. added.
– Richard Sisk can be reached at [email protected]
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