The Taliban on Wednesday welcomed the Pentagon’s announcement it would soon pull about 2,000 US troops from Afghanistan as a “good step” that will help end the country’s long-running conflict.
The Pentagon on Tuesday said the US will slash troop levels in Afghanistan and Iraq to their lowest levels in nearly 20 years of war after President Donald Trump pledged to end conflicts abroad.
“It is a good step and in the interest of the people of both countries,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP, referring to the US and Afghanistan.
“The sooner the foreign forces leave, the more the war will be prevented.”
Critics have expressed concerns that a precipitous departure could embolden the Taliban and erode gains made since 2001, when US-led forces ousted the hardline Islamists in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
The latest Pentagon move would see 2,000 US troops quit Afghanistan by January 15, less than a week before President-elect Joe Biden is expected to be sworn into office.
The withdrawal follows outgoing President Donald Trump’s plan to end US military involvement in Afghanistan.
Under a deal signed February 29, the Trump administration agreed to pull all foreign forces from the country by May 2021.
In return, the Taliban promised not to attack US forces and said they would stop transnational jihadist groups like Al-Qaeda and Islamic State from operating in the country.
In Kabul, some expressed alarm over the US troop withdrawal.
“The Taliban will escalate violence in a bid to seize more political power in Afghanistan, putting Afghanistan on a dangerous path,” bookseller Mahdi Mosawi said.
Another capital resident, Fatima Safari, said the withdrawal would undermine hard-won women’s gains.
During the Taliban’s rule between 1996 to 2001, women were forced to wear burqas and those accused of adultery were sometimes executed.
“Women might not be able to play a role that they are used to now,” she said.
Germany, which has hundreds of troops in northern Afghanistan, also said Wednesday it was worried the speedy US withdrawal could affect peace efforts.
“We are particularly concerned over what the US announcement could mean for the continuation of peace talks in Afghanistan,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.
“We should not create additional hurdles – something that a hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan would most certainly lead to”.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg sought to reassure Afghan President Ashraf Ghani of continued support.
“Discussed NATO’s mission with @ashrafghani. We support the Afghanistan peace process…. Even with the US reduction, NATO will continue to train, advise & assist the Afghan forces in their fight against international terrorism,” he tweeted.
The US-Taliban deal, signed in Doha, paved the way for peace talks to start between the Taliban and Afghan government on September 12.
In the months since, negotiators have made almost no tangible progress and talks now appeared stalled.
Afghan officials downplayed the US troop cut, which would leave about 2,500 American service members in Afghanistan after January 15.
“The Afghan security and defence forces are already conducting 96 percent of the operations independently and are prepared to continue to defend the country against our enemies,” Afghan National Security Council spokesman Rahmatullah Andar said.
Since the US-Taliban deal, the Pentagon has shut several military bases across Afghanistan and rotated thousands of soldiers out of the country.