Quoting two current and one former senior US official, NBC News reports that US President Donald Trump has pushed his military and national security advisers in recent days to pull all US troops out of Afghanistan amid concerns about a major coronavirus outbreak in the country.
Typically, administration officials or policy decision-makers speak of a gradual, responsible and conditional withdrawal from Afghanistan – a country hit by decades of war and violence.
But according to NBC News quoting officials, Trump complains almost daily that US troops are still in Afghanistan and are now vulnerable to the pandemic.
The officials are quoted as saying that Trump’s renewed push to withdraw all troops is due to the combination of his concern that the coronavirus poses a force protection issue for thousands of US troops in Afghanistan, and his impatience with the delayed progress of his peace deal with the Taliban.
According to NBC News, the officials said Trump’s military advisers have made the case to him that if the US pulls troops out of Afghanistan because of the coronavirus, by that standard the Pentagon would also have to withdraw from places like Italy, which has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic.
“There is concern from a variety of places that we could leave Afghanistan,” one senior US official as quoted by NBC News, pointing to concerns voiced by US allies, members of Congress and US military officials.
According to Resolute Support, four coalition service members have tested positive for COVID-19.
“The service members were newly-arrived in the country and were in a precautionary screening facility when they became symptomatic, were moved to isolation, and were tested,” the mission said in a statement on March 24.
One senior administration official and a defense official said that while the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan because of the coronavirus has been under discussion, a more likely outcome would be to consolidate American forces at bases in one or two parts of the country, the NBC reported.
US officials worry the virus could become rampant in Afghanistan, given its lack of health care and testing and its shared border with Iran, which has been hit hard by the pandemic.
The remarks come as the US has already started reducing the number of its troops in Afghanistan after a peace agreement signed between the United States and the Taliban in Qatar on February 29.