A top US general on Thursday said the United States has reduced its troop level to 8,600 in Afghanistan, fulfilling the first phase of the planned withdrawal specified in the US-Taliban deal signed in Doha in February.
The withdrawal of the US forces is a key part of the US-Taliban agreement, but US officials have emphasized that the troop pullout will be dependent on conditions on the ground.
“What I would tell you now is we have met our part of the agreement,” Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, head of the US Central Command, speaking at a panel discussion hosted by the Aspen Institute think tank on Thursday. “We agreed to go to the mid-8,000 range within 135 days. We’re at that number now.”
The US general did not provide any indication of when, or at what pace, US forces would be further reduced – under the US-Taliban agreement.
The US-Taliban agreement also calls for the full withdrawal of the US military from the country by May 2021 if the Taliban meets the conditions of the deal, including severing ties with terrorist groups.
Based on the agreement, the US would reduce its forces in Afghanistan to 8,600 within 135 days of signing the deal, which is mid-July. Now it seems that the target has been reached almost 25 days ahead of the agreed date.
The US general said the full withdrawal is an “aspirational” commitment and that “conditions would have to be met that satisfy us that attacks against our homeland are not going to be generated from Afghanistan.”
The Taliban committed in the agreement to cut their ties with al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.
“We all know already that [the Taliban] are no friends of ISIS (ISIL),” McKenzie said. “What we need to see is what they’re going to do against al-Qaeda. And we need to see that in deeds and not words.”
This comes as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at a press conference following the meetings of NATO Defense Ministers said “NATO Allies support the peace efforts, and we are closer to real intra-Afghan negotiations now than I think we have ever been before. And I welcome that.”
“At the same time, we all realize that the situation in Afghanistan is difficult, we still see violence and we see attacks. We see that there is still a long way to go before we have a lasting and sustainable peace in Afghanistan. But we welcome the efforts and we welcome the fact that we are closer,” he added.
He reiterated that “the Taliban has to live up to their commitments in the agreement they made with the United States.”
“Then one part of this agreement, the US-Taliban agreement is, as you mentioned, the release of prisoners on both sides. That’s part of the agreement,” he added.