US Quietly Reducing It's Forces In Afghanistan | World Defense

US Quietly Reducing It's Forces In Afghanistan

AliYusuf

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U.S. Is Quietly Reducing Its Forces in Afghanistan
New York Times
Thomas Gibbons-NeffMujib Mashal
By Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Mujib Mashal
Published Oct. 21, 2019
Updated Oct. 22, 2019, 1:15 a.m. ET


KABUL, Afghanistan — The United States has been quietly reducing its troop strength in Afghanistan despite the lack of a peace deal with the Taliban, weakening its hand in any future negotiations with the insurgents.

The top American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Austin S. Miller, said Monday that the size of the force in the country had dropped by 2,000 over the last year, down to somewhere between 13,000 and 12,000.

American negotiators had tried to use troop reduction as a bargaining chip in their long peace talks with the Taliban, hoping to get some concessions from the insurgent group. President Trump abruptly aborted those talks last month.

The disclosure that the United States has in fact already been pulling back troops in Afghanistan, deal or no deal, came just weeks after Mr. Trump stunned allies and adversaries alike by pulling American forces from parts of Syria.

In both cases, critics said Washington was giving up invaluable leverage in negotiations to shape the future of the two countries.

In peace talks with the Taliban aimed at ending the United States’ longest war, American negotiators worked hard to try to convince the insurgents that Washington was truly committed to Afghanistan, and that they should not try to wait out the Americans.

But Mr. Trump has made no secret of his desire to pull the United States out of “endless wars” — and the Taliban knows that.

Like much of the world, the insurgents have been closely watching the events in Syria, where the Trump administration allowed Turkey to move against Kurdish fighters who had long been closely allied with American forces.

“The U.S. follows its interests everywhere, and once it doesn’t reach those interests, it leaves the area,” Khairullah Khairkhwa, a senior Taliban negotiator, said in an interview posted on the group’s website recently. “The best example of that is the abandoning of the Kurds in Syria. It’s clear the Kabul administration will face the same fate.”

General Miller discussed the troop reductions on Monday at a news conference in Kabul.

Other American and Afghan officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss details of the plan, said that the eventual force size could drop to as low as 8,600 — roughly the size of an initial reduction envisioned in a draft agreement with the Taliban before Mr. Trump halted peace talks last month.

Rather than issuing a formal withdrawal order, they are reducing the force gradually by not replacing troops that cycle out.

A senior Afghan official said the Afghan government had signed off on the reduction. Officials would not discuss other details of the draw down, including any specific timeline for it.

The confirmation of the troop reduction came as the American defense secretary, Mark T. Esper, was making a visit to Afghanistan. Earlier in his visit, Mr. Esper had seemed to allude to some potential reduction in American forces, saying that drawing down to 8,600 troops would not affect important counter terrorism operations in Afghanistan.

For months, there has been debate within the Trump administration on meeting the president’s goal of stopping what he has described as open-ended American military entanglements in foreign conflicts. Amid the president’s growing frustration, diplomats negotiating a peace deal in Afghanistan dangled troop reductions before the Taliban, which has long demanded a complete American troop withdrawal.

The decision to reduce American troops even without a deal does not just give the United States less leverage over the terms of any settlement with the Taliban. It is also likely to mean a significant shift away from the United States military’s longstanding mission of training the Afghan military as American officials concentrate on counterterrorism operations, officials said.

Reducing the number of troops ahead of a complete departure from the country was always the most important American bargaining chip in any negotiations with the Taliban to end the long war. But from the start, Mr. Trump made it abundantly clear that he wanted out of Afghanistan.

At one stage halfway through the yearlong negotiations, Mr. Trump stumbled during a Fox News interview, incorrectly saying that the number of American troops in Afghanistan was 9,000, and not the roughly 14,000 it was listed at.

Many, including some Taliban officials taking part in the talks, which were held in Qatar, read Mr. Trump’s remarks as confirmation that the American decision to draw down had already been made whether the insurgents offered concessions or not.

American military officials, though wary of leaving Afghanistan altogether, had signed off on the first stages of a troop drawdown in a draft peace agreement that called for called for 5,400 American troops to leave the country over about five months. The measure was put forward to show the Taliban that the Americans would abide by the proposed deal in return for the insurgent group reducing violence in Afghanistan, according to officials taking part in the negotiations.

But the negotiations collapsed in September when Mr. Trump pulled the plug on the deal his diplomats had finalized and initialed after a year of negotiations.

American officials have since quietly signaled that they are trying to keep the talks with the Taliban alive. Earlier this month, the chief negotiator for the United States, Zalmay Khalilzad, met informally with Taliban officials in Pakistan.

The current process of troop reduction outside of peace talks gives more control over the process to General Miller and the government of President Ashraf Ghani, which had criticized the United States for negotiating a troop withdrawal with the insurgents rather than with the country’s elected government.

Last year in January, Mr. Ghani, perceiving that Mr. Trump urgently wanted to cut costs in Afghanistan, said he would be happy to directly negotiate some degree of troop reductions with the Americans if they would avoid rushing into a bad deal with the Taliban.

General Miller had long set out a goal of an 8,600-member troop force as being both a desired level and as the minimum needed to support the Afghan military, according to two defense officials.

General Miller, a Special Operations officer by profession, has a reputation for whittling down military units and commands to “trim the fat” and best accomplish their mission. In the last year that he has led the Afghan mission, American troops have focused on seeking out leadership for Afghan forces who can better carry the burden of the war, while the United States can focus its resources in backing them up with air power.

At the height of the war, in 2010 and 2011, more than 100,000 American troops were stationed in Afghanistan, aided by tens of thousands of soldiers from NATO allies in what made up one of the biggest military coalitions in the world.

Now, a further reduction in American forces would mean that the burden of training the Afghan military would fall more heavily on the roughly 8,500 NATO forces and other allies in the country.

It is unclear, however, whether a reduction in American forces might lead to some reconsideration by NATO allies as well. In a recent interview with The New York Times, NATO’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, would not speculate on any reduction of troops, but added that NATO remains committed to the mission in Afghanistan.

“We have adjusted that many times, and we will always assess exactly the way and the composition of our forces in Afghanistan,” Mr. Stoltenberg said.

The plan to shrink the force in Afghanistan comes as much of the world’s attention has been focused on the retreat of American forces from the front line in Syria as Turkish-backed troops advance into the country. And in many ways, the changes in Syria and Afghanistan are linked.

In December, in the aftermath of Mr. Trump’s first announcement that American forces would be leaving Syria, he also demanded the withdrawal of 7,000 troops from Afghanistan. Mr. Trump’s orders sent the Pentagon and the American command in the Middle East scrambling in an effort to persuade the president otherwise, officials say.

Thomas Gibbons-Neff is a reporter in the Washington bureau and a former Marine infantryman. @tmgneff

Mujib Mashal is a senior correspondent in Afghanistan. Born in Kabul, he wrote for magazines such as The Atlantic, Harper’s, Time and others before joining The Times. @MujMash
 

Khafee

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Mangus Ortus Novem

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Would they do this, IF a deal had NOT been reached with Pakistan?

@TsAr @Mangus Ortus Novem @Mastankhan @Counter-Errorist

Brother mine,

Came with our consent and exit of course.

However, Deal hasn't manifested yet... if there is any, to be frank.

CSF not released. No help in debt write-off or quiet support on IoJK. Long list really.

Quaid e Azam was the last PakStatesman we had. From that day till today I fear none.

Let me frame it in another way: Will the US be more dangerous for Pakistan inside Afghanistan or when it has left Afghanistan?

If you recall I have been offering a StrategicFramework for sometime now... anyhow, another time.

I did start a thread here in this section about US Lost in Afghanistan ... perhaps merge these two... and have one place for all updates/discussions.... more news will be emerging and of course, blamegame .... election year you see.

How easy would it be to blame the defeat on Pakistan? or how difficult?

Just a marker.... the growing political unrest in Pakistan and quiet exit .... what says you? Will write on this soon...

The Greatest Game is in Town and Pakistan is The Heartland!!!
 
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Would they do this, IF a deal had NOT been reached with Pakistan?

@TsAr @Mangus Ortus Novem @Mastankhan @Counter-Errorist
I started to think this was Trump's call. He has been actively working towards Russia's interests.
But, if that was the case, he would make a big deal out of it and it would be rather spontaneous - that's his signature.

The quite long drawdown appears to be orchestrated behind closed curtains. Which means some has been asked (kindly) to fill the vacuum. We fit snugly into the missing puzzle piece.
 

AliYusuf

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I started to think this was Trump's call. He has been actively working towards Russia's interests.
But, if that was the case, he would make a big deal out of it and it would be rather spontaneous - that's his signature.

The quite long drawdown appears to be orchestrated behind closed curtains. Which means some has been asked (kindly) to fill the vacuum. We fit snugly into the missing puzzle piece.
Does this mean that the Village Idiot has been ignored in the afghan context?
@Khafee Sahib your thoughts?
 
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Brother mine,

Came with our consent and exit of course.

However, Deal hasn't manifested yet... if there is any, to be frank.

CSF not released. No help in debt write-off or quiet support on IoJK. Long list really.

Quaid e Azam was the last PakStatesman we had. From that day till today I fear none.

Let me frame it in another way: Will the US be more dangerous for Pakistan inside Afghanistan or when it has left Afghanistan?

If you recall I have been offering a StrategicFramework for sometime now... anyhow, another time.

I did start a thread here in this section about US Lost in Afghanistan ... perhaps merge these two... and have one place for all updates/discussions.... more news will be emerging and of course, blamegame .... election year you see.

How easy would it be to blame the defeat on Pakistan? or how difficult?

Just a marker.... the growing political unrest in Pakistan and quiet exit .... what says you? Will write on this soon...

The Greatest Game is in Town and Pakistan is The Heartland!!!
Some food for thought. If no deal was forthcoming, we would have been blacklisted at FATF already.

My feeling is that the political unrest, FATF blacklist threat, emboldening Modi are pressure tactics to force us to accept Afghanistan from a degraded position of power.
 
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Does this mean that the Village Idiot has been ignored in the afghan context?
@Khafee Sahib your thoughts?
The tug-of-war between the intelligence agencies / establishment in the US and Trump is very public.
Trump is at the deep end and is looking for campaign-friendly catch-phrases to keep him afloat long enough to finish this term.
 

JungleSix

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US presence in Afghanistan is going on 20 years. Frankly, I'm surprised we've stayed as long as we have. The original operation to avenge 9/11 was accomplished. The mission morphed into an array of sub-objectives: nation-building, counter-insurgency, civil affairs, security and stability operations, opium interdiction etc.

We have to wrap things up at some point and let the chips fall where they may.
 

Scorpion

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US presence in Afghanistan is going on 20 years. Frankly, I'm surprised we've stayed as long as we have. The original operation to avenge 9/11 was accomplished. The mission morphed into an array of sub-objectives: nation-building, counter-insurgency, civil affairs, security and stability operations, opium interdiction etc.

We have to wrap things up at some point and let the chips fall where they may.
The US/NATO presence in Afghanistan is to serve NATO missile shield against China and Russia. I don't see them withdrawing anytime soon though.
 

IbnAbdullah

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Salaam


“The U.S. follows its interests everywhere, and once it doesn’t reach those interests, it leaves the area,” Khairullah Khairkhwa, a senior Taliban negotiator, said in an interview posted on the group’s website recently. “The best example of that is the abandoning of the Kurds in Syria. It’s clear the Kabul administration will face the same fate.”
That seems like a nightmare inducing reality for the Ashraf Ghani government coming true.

Let me frame it in another way: Will the US be more dangerous for Pakistan inside Afghanistan or when it has left Afghanistan?
That is, indeed, an exceptionally important question. I wonder what the answer to that would be.
 

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As Taliban forces are advancing day by day, price of staying in Afghanistan are going also very high.
Only viable options is to leave slowly so that no one realise it.

There is media blackout but Taliban's advancements are coming very aggressive now.
Yesterday the US base in city of Lashkargah (in Hilmand province) came under heavy rocket attack. I haven't seen it anywhere on mainstream media, but according to Taliban, about 65 rockets were fired.

Chief in Doha political office (Abdul Ghani Bradar ) has clearly indicated that first point from their side is always departure of foreign forces.
Interview is in Pashto language.
M M Beradar Akhund : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive

What are the actual implications of this move? Are the Americans finally realizing that eventually they will have to leave Afghanistan?
@Khafee @Mastankhan @TsAr @TomCat @Mingle @HRK @Counter-Errorist @maxpane @!eon
 

TomCat

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Some food for thought. If no deal was forthcoming, we would have been blacklisted at FATF already.

My feeling is that the political unrest, FATF blacklist threat, emboldening Modi are pressure tactics to force us to accept Afghanistan from a degraded position of power.
Absolutely!!
Salaam




That seems like a nightmare inducing reality for the Ashraf Ghani government coming true.



That is, indeed, an exceptionally important question. I wonder what the answer to that would be.
It would be a NightMare for Pakistan if F-16s/CSF comes with the removal of government or current Military establishment's extend ended
 

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