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US troops could be down to zero by spring next year: Pompeo

Ariana News

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(Last Updated On: September 14, 2020)

After meeting with Afghan government officials and Taliban leaders in Doha on Saturday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the process is moving along at a pace for a full withdrawal of all American troops from Afghanistan by April or May next year. 

Speaking to Breitbart News on Sunday, while flying back to the United States, Pompeo said the full troops withdrawal was conditions-based and that there were three key conditions that needed to be met by the Afghan government and the Taliban in order for this to happen. 

“One, there is an obligation they [Taliban] have with respect to foreign terrorist groups — primarily al-Qaeda, but all four terrorist groups — they are not permitted, and the language is very clear that they are not permitted and that they have to break with them. 

“Second, they [Afghanistan and Taliban] have to engage in these conversations in a way that is substantive and not just physically sit in the room, but they need to have serious conversations and begin to work their way through it. 

“Then, third, they have a responsibility as part of that to ensure that outside actors don’t act as spoilers for this, and there are many hands who would like to see this undone and would like to see America mired in Afghanistan for another 20 years. Both the Afghan government and the Taliban have a responsibility to prevent that,” he told Breitbart. 

“Those are the conditions, we’ll measure them. There’s a set of CT metrics that’s pretty clearly laid out. We’ll measure them and the president will make a decision if there’s sufficient compliance to get us to zero. I think we’re on a pathway to achieve that.”

This is in line with the US’s deal with the Taliban signed in Doha in February that stipulates a full drawdown of troops by next spring if conditions are met. 

One key condition is that the Taliban break ties with al-Qaeda, among other terrorist groups. Another condition is that the Taliban agrees not to harbor terrorist groups, as they were doing prior to the US invasion following the 9/11 attacks. 

Pompeo also stated that the US “finally have the Afghans prepared to sit down and have a serious conversation about taking their country forward without all the violence.”

He told Breitbart that President Donald Trump had laid out two objectives. One was to reduce the American footprint in Afghanistan and get its forces home and secondly, to make sure America is protected. 

 “I think we’re, today, on our way to putting America in a place where we can do both of those things,” he said. 

On the start of peace talks Saturday, between the Afghan government and the Taliban, he said the “meetings went as could be expected at the first gathering. They were getting their teams together, getting to know each other, and they began to set out the framework of what negotiations will look like.”

He said there are “some very, very difficult issues and there will be bumps in the road, but back in February, we were hoping that today would come back in March or April. It’s been six months, but I’m happy with the progress that was made today. I think they’ll meet again tomorrow in Doha and then they’ll go back and start on the framework of the negotiations not long after that.”

Sticking Points Discussed

Asked what challenges could be expected ahead of a peace agreement, Pompeo said that the “central challenge” is how power will be shared among the various parties in the country.

“In the end, the central challenge is what will the Afghan government look like,” Pompeo said. 

“What will be the power-sharing arrangement? This is a challenge anytime you have throughout history insurgencies and other times when nations have civil strife. We took al-Qaeda out, and the Taliban still have weapons and the capacity to inflict damage. 

“We made clear to them when I met with them today [Saturday] — the Taliban — that they have an obligation to reduce violence immediately and significantly so these negotiations can proceed. So there will be issues of power-sharing and how the government is established at the center of the conversation.”

Asked about his meeting with Taliban co-founder and lead negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Pompeo told Breitbart News that he is “convinced” there is a “solution” to the differences between the two sides.

“It’s the third time, maybe the fourth time, that I’ve spoken to him — the second time I’ve met with him in person. They have a very clear set of objectives, of things that they are laying down that they want and they need,” Pompeo said. 

“When I understand what the Afghan government wants and needs, and what the people of Afghanistan outside of the Taliban and Taliban-controlled territories want, I’m convinced there is a solution to this. I hope that that’s the case.”

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Trump calls Taliban tough but says US military can’t police Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: September 19, 2020)

US President Donald Trump said Friday night that the Taliban was tough and smart but also “tired of fighting.”

Speaking to journalists at a press conference, Trump reiterated his decision on troop withdrawals and said “we’ll be down very shortly over the next couple of weeks to 4,000 — less than 4,000 in Afghanistan.

“And then we’ll make that final determination a little bit later on.”

On the Taliban, Trump said: “We’re dealing very well with the Taliban. They’re very tough, they’re very smart, they’re very sharp. But, you know, it’s been 19 years, and even they are tired of fighting, in all fairness.”

Trump also said the US had been serving as a “police force” in Afghanistan. 

“And we really served as a police force, because if we wanted to do what we had to do, we would have fought a lot differently than they have over their 19 years.

“They didn’t fight it properly. They were police, okay? They’re not police; they’re — they’re soldiers. So there’s a difference. The police — nobody has more respect for police than I do, but they have to do their own policing.”

Trump went on to say the US is “having some very good discussions with the Taliban, as you probably heard. It’s been public. And — but we’ll be down to — very shortly, we’ll be down to less than 4,000 soldiers.”

“And so we’ll be out of there, knowing that certain things have to happen — certain things have to be fulfilled.  But 19 years is a long time, 8,000 miles away. Nineteen years is a long time,” he said.

This comes amid the first rounds of intra-Afghan negotiations following the US-Taliban agreement signed in Doha in February that set out certain conditions – one of which is the withdrawal of all foreign troops by around April next year. 

 

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Abdullah outlines future scenarios that are down to ‘the will of the people’

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(Last Updated On: September 17, 2020)

Both sides need to come to a shared agreement on Afghanistan’s future – one where the will of the people can be exercised freely, said Abdullah Abdullah, the Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation.

Speaking to Al-Jazeera, Abdullah said Afghanistan’s future would include one that can sustain itself and one that leads to durable peace and stability. 

As intra-Afghan negotiations continue, between the Afghan negotiating team and the Taliban, Abdullah said both sides need to come to a shared agreement on how to move forward. 

“Both sides should see the need and come to the realization that we must put people first,” he said and on whether the country’s future was a Republic or an Emirate system, he stated it would come “down to the will of the people”. 

However, he stated it was important that the will of the people should be exercised in a free way “one person, one vote is important.”

Asked about the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan’s constitution, and any possible changes to it, he said there were provisions incorporated in the guiding document which allowed for changes to be made. 

He said the provisions were designed for the interests of the country to get the people in the country together in a unified manner but a change to the constitution was not impossible. 

Should a peace deal be sealed and structural changes be needed, he stated: “The country needs national institutions, national army, national police or any other security sector.” 

Abdullah said that one aspect of the hard work that lay ahead of the peace talks teams was how to integrate the Afghan security forces and Taliban fighters.

“The blueprint has to be decided by both sides”, and there shouldn’t be preconditions attached to it, he said. 

Adding his voice to countless of other officials, both local and foreign, Abdullah said a reduction in violence was critical at this point so that the process could move towards a ceasefire. 

“When I talk about casualties, it’s not just on one side. It’s on both sides,” he said adding that this was unfortunate and a “burden on the next generation.”

He said there is no winner in a war and no loser in an inclusive, peaceful settlement. 

“While they are not recognizing us [Afghan government] or we don’t recognize them as the Islamic Emirate, but we recognize the need to get together, to sit together, to present our views which are different from one another – but to find ways how to reconcile those differences, how to find ways to live together while still maintaining some differences and fighting for it politically rather than through violence.”

He said there could be groups within the Taliban that want to continue with the talks and also to continue with the fighting but that he assumes there are others that are “thinking much more maturely” – based on experience. 

He said the fact that the United States is looking at Afghanistan reaching a peace deal “with urgency” was a “bonus. It’s a plus.” 

But for the Afghan negotiating team, the “ticking clock,” the urgency was more about stopping the suffering of the Afghan people. 

“A unified Islamic Republic will be in a much better position to negotiate … and represent the views of the people”. 

“The continuation of the war and suffering, endless, in an endless way, will not put anybody in a dignified position and it’s not a service to the people,” he said. 

 

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Difficult decisions had to be made to get to talks tables: Khalilzad

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(Last Updated On: September 17, 2020)

US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation said in order for the United States, the Afghan government and the Taliban to get to this point some very difficult, even heart-wrenching decisions had to be made. 

He said in an interview with Al-Jazeera that not only did the United States have to make difficult decisions but so did Afghanistan. 

This was in reference to concerns raised over whether the US government has given the Taliban “too much weight” in the intra-Afghan negotiation process – especially in light of the release of 5,000 prisoners. 

Recently foreign countries, specifically France and Australia objected to the release of some hardcore prisoners who had been responsible for killing their nationals over the past few years. 

But Khalilzad said the US itself had not been too happy about this but that “we [the US] appreciate their expression of unhappiness and empathize with them but we think the goal of making Afghanistan to be more peaceful, for Afghans to come together to end the war, for Afghanistan not to be a threat to the international community and for the burden of Afghanistan to be reduced on the international community,” sacrifices needed to be made. 

“Nothing important is easy to achieve, unfortunately. We had to do those tough things, difficult things, heart-wrenching things to get where we are.”

He also said the US was satisfied that the objectives ahead were worth the sacrifices that have been made. 

During the interview, he said not only are the current peace talks a historic moment and an opportunity for peace but also a moment of hope and he continually emphasized the fact that Afghans are tired of war – a war that has been ongoing for 40 years. 

But questioned on whether the continued attacks by the Taliban – who attribute such information as Afghan government propaganda – “sounded like two parties willing to negotiate”, Khalilzad said he did. 

According to him, negotiations are underway in a bid to build trust, to reduce violence and for the two sides to overcome their differences which have led to the conflict. 

He stated the negotiations are underway to “find a formula for resolving those differences,” and noted that both sides had different ideologies but that the aim was for them not to change these but rather to find a way to agree on a political formula that’s workable. 

“It will be difficult, I don’t anticipate …. that it will be easy and that they will quickly come to an agreement. But the door to intra-Afghan negotiations has been opened.” 

He said the United States was very pleased with the role it had played in getting the parties to the talks table but asked whether the basis of the talks was being forced on the Afghan government and whether these talks were truly Afghan-led, Khalilzad stated that until recently it had been US-led but talks were now entirely Afghan-owned and Afghan-led. 

He also said: “They [Afghan negotiating team] are not working on a US timeline but I think they are under pressure from their people who want the war to end.”

He said the US will withdraw from the country if all conditions, in accordance with the Doha agreement between the US and the Taliban, are met. 

The framework agreed upon with the Taliban has four elements, terrorism assurances, intra-Afghan negotiations, a permanent ceasefire and the withdrawal of international forces, he said adding: “We have agreed that if all of these conditions are met within 14 months we will withdraw.” 

He said that if the Taliban does not adhere to the commitments it made to the US “then we are free from our obligation we have made with them.”

He emphasized the agreement was not something made on trust – but instead it was a deal. “You do this, we will do this,” and vice versa, he said without going into any further detail.

But he said he was counting on the Taliban to adhere to their commitment. 

According to him, the Taliban negotiating team is a “very empowered” team and one that takes the negotiations seriously and they came prepared for the talks. 

The Afghan delegation meanwhile was very broad-based and represented a cross-sector of the population, he said adding that both sides were taking the talks seriously “although there are spoilers inside and out”. 

Without naming the “spoilers” Khalilzad said there are people who prefer the status quo as it is – people who profit from the war politically and financially. This he said, was putting “small interests ahead of the broader national interests and that is obviously not acceptable. ” 

He also said there are groups that are against the peace process, against Afghans coming together and groups who want to keep the US entangled in the war. 

One example he gave was that of Daesh in Afghanistan, which, he said, “is trying to polarize the situation” and in some cases have “tried to pretend” the Taliban carried out some of the worst attacks in the country in a bid to undermine the peace process. 

He noted the Afghanistan conflict is quite complex in terms of the number of players but that the US has tried to be active not only with the Afghan sides but also within the region and internationally “to build a consensus for peace in Afghanistan.”

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