The Afghan Taliban group on Thursday welcomed President Donald Trump’s announcement that all US troops would be withdrawn from the country by Christmas.
It is “a positive step towards the implementation of the Doha Agreement,” said a spokesman for the Islamist group, Mohammad Naeem, in a statement.
Said Trump on Twitter on Wednesday: “We should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE men and women at home in Afghanistan by Christmas!”
It was not clear from his tweet whether Trump was issuing an order or verbalizing a long-held pursuit.
The Doha Accords, a milestone signed between the US and the Taliban in February, contained plans to withdraw foreign forces from Afghanistan after two decades of war.
In return, the insurgent group promised security guarantees, including negotiating a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing formula with the Afghan government.
Trump’s announcement came just hours after National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien said the U.S. currently has fewer than 5,000 troops in Afghanistan and would drop to 2,500 by early next year.
“Ultimately, the Afghans have to work out an agreement themselves, a peace deal. … It will be slow progress, it will be hard progress, but we think it is a necessary step – we think Americans have to.” Come home, “O’Brien said Wednesday at an event at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas.
Trump has made the departure of “ridiculous endless wars” a cornerstone of his foreign policy in the midst of a re-election campaign, despite thousands of troops remaining in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
The White House’s plan for the drawdown will almost certainly be reviewed in the event Trump loses his bid for a second term in the Nov. 3 election.
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However, Trump’s comments could further weaken the Afghan government’s leverage during negotiations with the Taliban. Numerous Afghan soldiers and Taliban fighters were killed in clashes while the talks were taking place in Qatar’s capital, Doha. Dozens of civilians have also died in the past few weeks.
Approximately 2,400 US soldiers were killed and many thousands more injured in the Afghan conflict.
Wednesday was 19 years since the United States invaded Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban rulers who hosted al-Qaeda fighters who attacked the United States on September 11, 2001.