Officials say hundreds of troops are leaving the war-torn state and will not be replaced under deal with Taliban
U.S. troops have started withdrawing from Afghanistan as part of an agreement signed between Washington and the Taliban last month that aims to bring about an end to the 19-year conflict that was ignited after the events of 9/11.
“In accordance with the U.S.-Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Joint Declaration and the U.S.-Taliban Agreement, U.S. Forces Afghanistan (USFOR-A) has begun its conditions-based reduction of forces to 8,600 over 135 days,” USFOR-A said in a statement.
On Feb. 29, the U.S.-Taliban deal was inked in Qatar while the government of Afghanistan and the U.S. also issued a joint declaration on the same day in Kabul.
Under the agreement, the United States would reduce its forces in Afghanistan from about 13,000 now to 8,600 within 135 days and all the U.S.-led coalition forces would return home within 14 months from Afghanistan—if the Taliban fulfill the conditions envisaged in the agreement, including severing ties with terrorist groups such as the Islamic State and Al Qaeda.
“USFOR-A maintains all the military means and authorities to accomplish our objectives-including conducting counterterrorism operations against Al Qaeda and ISIS-K and providing support to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces. USFOR-A is on track to meet directed force levels while retaining the necessary capabilities,” the statement added.
The first batch of U.S. forces has reportedly pulled out from a base in southern Helmand province.
The troop withdrawal comes amid tensions in Afghanistan following parallel presidential oath-taking ceremonies by Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah. Both men are refusing to recognize each other’s authority and claim the presidency in full. The next step of the deal involves an intra-Afghan peace dialogue through which the Taliban and Afghanistan stakeholders will try to figure out a power-sharing formula to ensure the U.S. can withdraw and peace prevails in the country.
The U.S. has warned that it would not hesitate to “nullify” the agreement if the deal was broken by the Taliban. “Should the Taliban fail to honor their commitments, they will forfeit their chance to sit with fellow Afghans and deliberate on the future of their country,” U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper had said after the deal was signed.