Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali of Reuters have reported on Monday that, according to sources, President Donald Trump may settle for a partial withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan.
An anonymous U.S. official told Reuters that the military was expecting formal orders in the coming days to go down to about 2,500 troops in Afghanistan by early next year from around 4,500 currently.
Another anonymous official, this time from NATO, reportedly also cited expectations of a 1,500 to 2,000 troop decline.
This comes one week after Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper and replaced him with Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller. The president appointed other top Pentagon officials last week, Reuters said, after longstanding concerns that his priorities were not being dealt with urgently enough at the Defense Department.
According to Reuters, these concerns included the ambitious goal of ending the 19-year-old war in Afghanistan before Christmas. Those who oppose the longest war in the history of the U.S. were receptive this goal, but Trump’s critics have warned that completely pulling out troops could be reckless amid continuing violence from Taliban militants that has been disrupting Afghanistan.
An anonymous senior U.S. defense official told Reuters that Afghanistan has been featured in a number of introductory calls by Miller to U.S. allies’ defense ministers and chiefs of defense.
“It was a part of many of them because it is of great importance to our NATO allies, our allies in the region and also just global security and protecting the American homeland,” the unnamed official said.
But the official, speaking after the calls with allies, suggested to Reuters that Trump would not push a withdrawal faster than conditions on the ground allow.
Furthermore, U.S. and Afghan officials are concerned by the ongoing violence by Taliban insurgents and persistent Taliban links to the terrorist group al-Qaeda.
Following the September 11th attacks in 2001 that al-Qaeda carried out, it was those ties between the two groups that triggered the initial U.S. military intervention in October 2001. Nearly 2,400 American troops and over a thousand coalition troops have died in fighting in Afghanistan since its start.
Some U.S. military officials, citing U.S. counter-terrorism priorities in Afghanistan, have privately urged Trump against going to zero at this point and want to keep U.S. troop levels at around 4,500 for now, per Reuters.
“The president has acted appropriately in this, has never said: ‘Hey, we’re going to zero. Let’s go tomorrow.’ It has always been a conditions-based effort and that effort continues,” the senior U.S. defense official said, without explicitly detailing future drawdown plans.
However, U.S. officials say Trump has yet to issue orders to carry that withdrawal out. On Monday the first U.S. official said to Reuters that the Pentagon had told commanders to start planning for the more moderate reduction to 2,500 troops.
Additionally, the aforementioned NATO official said to Reuters that the belief was the United States could soon announce a drawdown to 2,500 to 3,000 troops by Christmas.
NATO allies also in Afghanistan are very reliant on the U.S. for logistical support, which U.S. officials told Reuters would make a total withdrawal at this moment difficult for the U.S. military to execute.
Taliban militants have asked that Trump stick to an agreement made back in February that would see U.S. troops withdrawn by May 2021 as long as certain security guarantees are upheld.
You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @Douglas_P_Braff.
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Mental health crisis spikes among Afghan women after Taliban regained control two years ago
The women of Afghanistan are suffering a mental health crisis since the Taliban regained power two years ago. According to a joint report from three U.N. agencies released Tuesday, approximately 70% of women experience feelings of anxiety, isolation and depression.
The numbers continue to rise, as there has already been a significant jump between April and June of this year alone, with an increase from 57% the preceding quarter.
The report, conducted by U.N. Women, the International Organization for Migration and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, interviewed women online, in-person and in group consultations as well as individual telesurveys.
592 Afghan women in 22 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces took part in the study. The Associated Press reports:
They have barred women from most areas of public life and work and banned girls from going to school beyond the sixth grade. They have prohibited Afghan women from working at local and non-governmental organizations. The ban was extended to employees of the United Nations in April.
Opportunities to study continued to shrink as community-based education by international organizations was banned and home-based schooling initiatives were regularly shut down by the de facto authorities — a term use by the U.N. for the Taliban government.
Afghanistan is the only country in the world with restrictions on female education and the rights of Afghan women and children are on the agenda of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
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