Taleban welcome US troop drawdown from Afghanistan as 'good step'

The latest Pentagon move would see 2,000 US troops quit Afghanistan by Jan 15. PHOTO: AFP

KABUL (AFP) - The Taleban on Wednesday (Nov 18) 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 announced on Tuesday that the United States would 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," Taleban 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 Taleban and erode gains made since 2001, when US-led forces ousted the hardline Islamists in the wake of the Sept 11 attacks.

The latest Pentagon move would see 2,000 US troops quit Afghanistan by Jan 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 Feb 29, the Trump administration agreed to pull all foreign forces from the country by May 2021.

In return, the Taleban promised not to attack US forces and said they would stop transnational Islamist groups like Al-Qaeda and Islamic State from operating in the country.

Germany, which has hundreds of troops in northern Afghanistan, on Wednesday said it was worried the speedy US withdrawal could affect the bid to find peace in Afghanistan.

"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."

The US-Taleban deal, signed in Doha, paved the way for peace talks to start between the Taleban and Afghan government on Sept 12.

In the months since, negotiators have made almost no tangible progress and talks now appear stalled.

Afghan officials downplayed the US troop cut, which would leave about 2,500 American service members in Afghanistan after Jan 15.

"The Afghan security and defence forces are already conducting 96 per cent 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-Taleban deal, the Pentagon has shut several military bases across Afghanistan and rotated thousands of soldiers out of the country.

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