The United States has started withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan, said Sonny Leggett, a spokesperson for American forces in Afghanistan, on Monday.
Speaking to the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of US Central Command, confirmed that the US will reduce the number of American troops in Afghanistan by roughly 4,400 servicemembers by this summer--in accordance with the US Taliban deal-- but regarding the 14 months deadline also mentioned in deal, McKenzie said there are no plans at the moment to completely withdraw all forces from Afghanistan.
“We’re going to go to 8,600 by the summer. Conditions on the ground will dictate if we go below that,” Gen. McKenzie said.
“If conditions on the ground are not permissive, my advice would be to not continue that reduction, that would not be my decision, that would be my advice,” he said.
Gen. McKenzie said that the Taliban are still carrying out attacks “relatively low in scale,” and not against US forces, but he said they are "not consistent" with the deal:
“But those attacks are occurring, and they’re not consistent with a movement toward a negotiated settlement, and they are not consistent with the undertaking they made,” Gen. McKenzie said, adding: “The Taliban need to keep their part of the bargain.”
“In accordance with the US-Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Joint Declaration and the U.S.-Taliban Agreement, US Forces Afghanistan (USFOR-A) has begun its conditions-based reduction of forces to 8,600 over 135 days,” Leggett said. “USFOR-A maintains all the military means and authorities to accomplish our objectives—including conducting counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda and ISIS-K and providing support to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces. USFOR-A is on track to meet directed force levels while retaining the necessary capabilities.”
The release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners by the Afghan government is also being discussed, as it is mentioned in both the US-Taliban deal and the Afghan-US declaration. The prisoner release, the announcement of a negotiating team and a troop withdrawal are main parts of the peace efforts that will open the way for intra-Afghan negotiations.
Local officials in the southern province of Helmand said that at least 100 US troops left a US base in Lashkargah city’s district on Tuesday, March 5, and transferred to another location in Helmand. The Bost 505 Police Headquarters is also operating from the base where the US forces left on Tuesday.
“It was decided to move the base from here to the Shorab base and if they were outnumbered, they will return to their country,” Helmand governor Yasin Khan told TOLOnews.
The start of the troop reduction in Afghanistan has been faced with criticism from Afghans and foreign officials.
“The reduction was not in our favor from the beginning, and it is not in our favor right now, and it won't be in our favor in the future: "How will our forces be able to make an army that is well-equipped?” said Attaullah Afghan, head of the Helmand Provincial Council.
US Senator Chris Murphy, in a series of tweets, said that the withdrawal of US forces is not in favor of Afghanistan.
“I got a classified briefing today on the agreement with the Taliban. I have been a supporter of negotiations with the Taliban, but the more I learn, the more concerned I become that Trump got fleeced,” he says. “The agreement leaves the Afghan government out to dry by scheduling withdrawal before a Taliban/Afghan government deal. Our military leverage could have been used to help the Afghans secure concessions from the Taliban - on protections for rights of women and children, for instance.”
Afghan analysts called the withdrawal “irresponsible” under the current circumstances in Afghanistan.
“The withdrawal of Americans at this stage from Afghanistan is irresponsible and this withdrawal I think should have been done four years from now because the Afghan forces are yet to be fully equipped,” said Saleh Registani, a political affairs analyst.
“If the US and its allies do maintain their logistical, technical and financial support to the Afghan defense and security forces, (Afghan forces) will not have the capacity to maintain the country’s security on their own,” said Tamim Asey, head of the Afghanistan Institute of War and Peace Studies.