US troop drawdown in Afghanistan ‘not halted’

KABUL (Tolo News): The US military has not halted a US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Department of Defense told Reuters, despite a new law prohibiting further reductions without the Pentagon sending Congress an assessment of the risks, Reuters reported.

“Currently, no new orders have been issued which impact the progression of the conditions-based drawdown expected to reach 2,500 (troops) by Jan. 15, 2021,” the Pentagon said in a statement. The Pentagon’s action will likely anger Republican and Democratic lawmakers opposed to further troop cuts and renew concerns about the outgoing Trump administration’s disdain for Congress, even in its waning days.

“If they are continuing the drawdown, that would be a violation of the law,” said a congressional aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity. The White House declined to comment. Halting the drawdown could jeopardize the US-backed Afghanistan peace process as a February 2019 agreement with the Taliban calls for a complete US troop withdrawal by May in return for the insurgents fulfilling security guarantees.

In November, the Pentagon said it would reduce the number of US forces in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 by mid-January. But this month Congress enacted a defense policy bill – overriding a veto by President Donald Trump – that bars using funds appropriated for fiscal years 2020 and 2021 to pay for a drawdown below 4,000 US troops until acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller submits to Congress a “comprehensive, interagency assessment of the risks and impacts.”

It is unclear how many troops have been moved out of Afghanistan since the law passed. Sources from the negotiating team of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan told TOLOnews that agreeing on the agenda for the negotiations will take time and that neither side has shown flexibility over the last three days. The sources said that the republic’s negotiating team is insisting on ceasefire as a priority in their formal talks, but the Taliban holds that a discussion about a ceasefire must come only after an agreement on a future government.

“There won’t be a need for ceasefire if the Islamic system is confirmed, and ceasefire will be applied accordingly,” said Sayed Akbar Agha, a former Taliban commander. “The parliament is following the peace process and will stand against any compromise,” said Mir Rahman Rahmani, the speaker of the parliament.

The working groups of the two sides have held meetings over the last three days. “The Taliban thinks that they will not benefit if they agree to a ceasefire before an agreement on a (future) government. The Taliban does not want to agree on ceasefire ahead of an agreement,” said Gul Rahman Qazi, head of the peace and salvation council of Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the High Council for National Reconciliation stated that attempts to find a solution to unify the agenda are underway. “Discussions about unifying the agenda have started and we hope that they achieve a decision in the interest of the people of Afghanistan,” said Fraidoon Khwazoon, spokesman for the High Council for National Reconciliation. Peace negotiators went to Doha last week to resume the talks that were stopped for 23 days for consultation on the agenda of the negotiations.