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Op-Ed: Pompeo says that US will reduce Afghan troops by 2020 election

If there is an Afghan peace deal all US troops will no doubt be withdrawn.

The Pompeo announcement is odd in that there are hopes for an Afghan peace deal by September. A condition for any deal with the Taliban is that all US and allied troops withdraw from Afghanistan. A reduction in troops by the 2020 election would seem to imply that US troops would still be there but the numbers would be reduced. If there is a peace agreement one would expect that they would all be withdrawn.

The peace process appears to be going well: “The broad basis for the deal is the US withdrawing from Afghanistan and the Taliban agreeing to keep ISIS and al-Qaeda out of the country. A power-sharing agreement between the Afghan government and Taliban, which is likely to be a top priority. There has been hope for some time that the deal could be reached before Afghanistan’s September election. It seems possible that such a deal could still be reached in that time-frame.”

US ended combat mission in 2014

Although the US ended its combat mission in Afghanistan in 2014 still about 14,000 US troops remain in the region providing training and air support.

Pompeo said that the reduction would apply to other countries forces as well: “End the endless wars, draw down, reduced. We hope that overall the need for combat forces in the region is reduced. It won’t just be us.”

The announcement brings into question peace talks with the Taliban

Pompeo claims President Trump made the decision to reduce troops and that he was unambiguous to have the number of troops cut before the election. He said also he wanted the overall need for troops in the region to be reduced and he claimed that this could happen. If the peace deal with the Taliban is reached as the parties seem to think is likely there should be no troops at all at least in Afghanistan. If there are still troops there is likely to be no agreement.

The announcement makes little sense in light of the progress in negotiations with the Taliban. The Taliban must be wondering if Trump is really bargaining in good faith. It is strange that the Trump announcement makes no mention at all of the peace negotiations. Perhaps Trump simply means to assure his supporters that he is serious about withdrawing troops from Afghanistan and to shore up his support before elections. He may not have even thought of the ongoing negotiations and what the Taliban might think of his proposals.

The best one could hope for is that the Taliban ignore what Trump has said and just write his announcement off as part of his campaign for re-election. Trump would have been better off if he had praised the progress of negotiations and suggested that all US troops might soon be out of Afghanistan.

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