US official: US begins troop withdrawal from Afghanistan

US official US begins troop withdrawal from Afghanistan
US troops wait for their helicopter flight at an Afghan National Army (ANA) base in Logar province, Afghanistan. Source: Reuters
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Daily US Times, Kabul: A US official confirmed that the country has started withdrawing troops from Afghanistan as part of a deal with the Taliban aimed at bringing peace to the country.

Under the deal with the Taliban, the US agreed to reduce its troops from about 12,000 to 8,600 within 135 days.

Taking back the US troops was a condition of the historic peace deal signed on 29 February in Doha.

The Afghan government did not take part in the deal but is expected to hold talks with the Taliban.

Ashraf Ghani, President of Afghanistan initially said that his government would not comply with an agreement to release Taliban prisoners as a pre-condition for direct talks with the militant group.

But reports say that he will issue a decree for at least 1,000 Taliban prisoners to be released this week. Mr Ghani was inaugurated for a second term on Monday.

The agreement appeared fragile last week after the US launched an airstrike in response to Taliban fighters attacking Afghan forces in Helmand province.

On Monday, Col Sonny Leggett, a spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan, announced the first phase of the American withdrawal.

In a statement, the US official said, the US retains “all the military means and authorities to accomplish our objectives” in Afghanistan despite the withdrawal of troops.

If the Taliban uphold the deal, the US and its Nato allies have agreed to withdraw all troops within 14 months.

US-led forces ousted the Taliban from power weeks after the September 2001 attacks in the US by al-Qaeda, a militant group based in Afghanistan.

Taliban regrouped and became an insurgent force that by 2018 was active in more than two-thirds of the country.

The was is the longest in American history and more than 2,400 US troops have been killed during the decades-long conflict.

As US troops started to leave Afghanistan, fresh political instability threatened any prospect of talks between all sides in the country.

Two separate swearing-in ceremonies took place on Monday for two different politicians after disputed elections last year.

Afghanistan’s electoral commission declared incumbent Mr Ghani narrowly won September’s vote, but his main opponent Abdullah Abdullah denied the result and alleges the result is fraudulent.

What’s in the agreement?

Under the agreement, the US will reduce its forces in Afghanistan to 8,600 in the first 135 days. Allies are also drawing down their forces proportionately.

The deal is a political win for Mr Trump as he can now show that he has brought troops home and started process to end the long lasting Afghan war ahead of the US presidential election in November.

The deal also allows a prisoner swap. By 10 March, some 5,000 Taliban prisoners and 1,000 Afghan security force prisoners would be exchanged. Talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government are due to start at that time.

The US will also lift sanctions against the Taliban and will work with the UN to lift its separate sanctions against the group.

Some consider the deal could worsen the situation for women in Afghanistan.

Activist Zahra Husseini expressed her concern, “I don’t trust the Taliban, and remember how they suppressed women when they were ruling.”