TRUMP WANTS TO CUT AFGHANISTAN TROOP LEVELS BEFORE 2020 ELECTION
President Trump wants to lower U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan before the 2020 presidential election, according to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
“That’s my directive from the president of the United States,” Pompeo said Monday. “He’s been unambiguous: End the endless wars, draw down, reduce.”
That’s an unusual acknowledgment of a campaign calendar influencing a foreign policy question. Pompeo argued that he has seen “real progress” in the negotiations to withdraw U.S. forces from the terrorist hotbed, though none of his comments suggested that a total departure from Afghanistan is in the offing.
“We think there’s a path to reduce violence, achieve reconciliation, and still make sure that the American counterterrorism effort in Afghanistan has a value and the potential to reduce risk here in the States,” he said at the Economic Club of Washington.
Trump’s administration has intensified the diplomatic push to extricate the United States from Afghanistan since September, when Pompeo appointed former Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad as the special representative for Afghan peace talks. Khalilzad has been brokering a deal with the Taliban that, in part, would exchange a U.S. withdrawal for guarantees the country won’t become “a platform for international terrorist groups or individuals.”
The talks have stalled as the Taliban has launched waves of terrorist attacks while refusing to recognize the legitimacy of the government in Kabul. Twenty people were killed and dozens more wounded Sunday in the capital when terrorists attacked the offices of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s running mate for the September 28 election.
“The attack on Amrullah Saleh’s political party offices was grotesque and a clear act of terrorism,” Khalilzad said in a tweet. “We condemn it in the strongest terms. The perpetrators should be brought to justice.”
The peace effort is further complicated by the emergence of a dangerous new offshoot of the Islamic State in Afghanistan, which has gathered strength despite attacks from the U.S. military and a running feud with the Taliban.
The negotiations have driven some tension between the Trump administration and the Afghan government, as Ghani’s aides have accused Khalilzad of excluding his government from the Taliban talks.
“We’re not just negotiating with the Taliban, that’s the story. The truth of the matter is we’re talking to all Afghans,” Pompeo said. “So we’ve spoken with President Ghani; I spoke to him on Friday night or Friday morning. We’re speaking with the opposition, those folks that are not inside the government. We’re speaking with Taliban officials.” (www.washingtonexaminer.com)