US President Donald Trump announced his intention on Wednesday to withdraw the last US soldier from Afghanistan by Christmas, accelerating the timetable for ending the longest war in US history.
“We must bring home the small remaining number of our brave men and women who are still serving in Afghanistan by Christmas!” Trump wrote on Twitter.
We should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 7, 2020
For years, the Republican billionaire, who is seeking to win a second term in the November 3 elections, has promised to “put an end to the endless wars,” and he has made no secret of his hope of speeding up the withdrawal as the elections approach.
On February 29, the Trump administration signed a historic agreement with the Taliban, which stipulated the withdrawal of all US forces from Afghanistan by mid-2021 at the latest, in exchange for security commitments from the extremist movement and its engagement indirect peace negotiations with the Kabul government.
After being delayed by several months, these negotiations began in September, but to date, they have not resulted in any ceasefire or even reduction in violence.
Trump’s promise comes nearly a month before the US election, while opinion polls indicate a lead from his Democratic rival, Joe Biden
After 19 years of US military operations in Afghanistan, his position is widely supported in the United States, including by his rival Biden, who sought during his tenure as US Vice President to reduce the American involvement in Afghanistan.
In response to a question last month about whether he supports Trump’s plan to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan and Iraq, Biden said, “Yes, as long as he has a plan to see how he will deal with the presence of ISIS.”
Flow of conversations
The United States first intervened in Afghanistan after the attacks of September 11, 2001, and toppled the Taliban regime that was harboring Al Qaeda.
But over the years the rebels launched a campaign to topple the US-backed government in Kabul, prompting violence that cost many civilian lives and continued after NATO decided to withdraw its combat forces in 2014.
The former Taliban regime imposed a strict regime in Afghanistan, banning music and education for girls. The unprecedented negotiations stalled in Doha over a dispute over which interpretation of Islam should be used as a framework for laws in post-conflict Afghanistan.
The US envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, on Wednesday expressed hope in the talks. “The great majority of Afghans want the conflict to end,” he said via video link from Doha, in front of a forum of the Pearson Institute at the University of Chicago. “I think the Taliban are serious about the talks,” he added.
On Tuesday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani called on the Taliban from Doha to “show courage for a ceasefire,” with the stalled peace negotiations between the government and the movement.
Ghani stressed during a conference that the long conflict in Afghanistan must be resolved through negotiation, “not with weapons.”
The Trump administration has pressured the Ghani government to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners, a condition of the movement for the resumption of talks.
In September, the number of US forces in Afghanistan reached 8,600, but the Pentagon indicated that day that it was preparing for a new phase of withdrawal.
In the United States, the principle of withdrawal is supported by Democrats, Republicans, and public opinion alike, although a number of political officials, especially among conservative Republicans, warn of the dangers of seeing a terrorist group using Afghanistan again as a rear base.