The US Central Command’s top general, Marine Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, said Wednesday that he cannot recommend a full withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan unless the Taliban demonstrate they no longer support al-Qaida forces there, the Stars and Stripes reported.
“If conditions would allow, we’re prepared to go to zero” by May, McKenzie said in a video conference hosted by the Washington-based think tank Middle East Institute. “If asked my opinion, those conditions have not been fully met.”
The US is currently on track to reduce troops to 8,600 by next month, as part of a larger withdrawal plan, provided that conditions are met by the Taliban.
McKenzie’s remarks come just weeks after news reports indicated President Donald Trump had demanded the Pentagon draw up plans to fully withdraw troops from Afghanistan by the Nov. 3 presidential election.
McKenzie reiterated the US long-stated claim that it maintains troops in Afghanistan to ensure terrorist networks cannot use that country to plan attacks against Americans.
“The threat to the United States is not the Taliban, it’s never been the Taliban, it’s the entities they allow to live in Afghanistan,” McKenzie said, referring primarily to al-Qaida.
The Taliban has regularly fought against Daesh “terrorists” in Afghanistan, McKenzie said.
Also, a UN report indicated recently that the Taliban had not severed its vast ties to al-Qaida and might have actually strengthened them in recent months.
Some 400 to 600 al-Qaida fighters remain in Afghanistan, where they operate in 12 of the nation’s 34 provinces, according to the UN report.
More than a week ago, speaking about Taliban commitments, Khalilzad said that the US is monitoring closely what happens with regard to terrorism, in terms of delivery on the commitments that the Taliban have made.
"We do notice that they are fighting Daesh and that’s one of the commitments that have been made,” said Khalilzad.
“Well, the Taliban fight Daesh, as you know, and they’ve been substantial adversaries vis-a-vis each other. Daesh is working against peace, is working against reduced level of violence, and they have been responsible, some of – for some of the most dastardly attacks recently, including the attack on the hospital,” he said, adding that “We believe that the Talibs have been important, besides the Afghan security forces and ourselves, in the fight against Daesh that has taken place. And Daesh is a fact of life in Afghanistan.”
Khalilzad said that the US and Taliban are committed to the signed agreement, adding: “That commitment is not only from the Taliban, the result of the US-Taliban agreement but also by the Afghan Government as a result of the joint declaration between the two sides" that was declared on the same day.