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Trump tweet calls for troops in Afghanistan to be home by Christmas

Paratroopers assigned to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division celebrated the Christmas Holiday on Kandahar Airfield, December 25, 2019. President Donald Trump said in a tweet Wednesday that U.S. troops should withdraw from Afghanistan by Christmas.

THOMAS CIESLAK/U.S. ARMY

By PHILLIP WALTER WELLMAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 7, 2020

KABUL, Afghanistan — U.S. troops should withdraw from Afghanistan by Christmas, President Donald Trump said in a tweet Wednesday, shortly after a top White House adviser said some troops would remain in the country in 2021.

“We should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas!” Trump tweeted Wednesday evening.

The U.S. military in Afghanistan did not comment after being asked whether Trump’s tweet represented a change in policy. The Pentagon also didn’t comment on the tweet, according to multiple media reports.

White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien said Wednesday that the U.S. would reduce its forces in Afghanistan to 2,500 by early next year.

“Ultimately, the Afghans themselves are going to have to work out an accord, a peace agreement ... We think Americans need to come home,” O’Brien said at an event in Las Vegas, according to Reuters.

The Taliban described Trump’s tweet as a “positive step” in a statement Thursday.

Peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government began in Qatar last month and are expected to take months, if not years, to complete.

The talks were the result of a U.S.-Taliban agreement reached in February, which stipulates all foreign forces could withdraw from Afghanistan by mid-2021 if the Taliban severs ties with groups like al-Qaida — the masterminds behind the 9/11 attack on the U.S.— and meets other conditions.

The Taliban maintain close ties with al-Qaida, according to recent assessments by the United Nations and the Pentagon.

Roughly 13,000 U.S. troops were deployed to the country at the start of this year, a number reduced to 8,600 by summer.

David Helvey, the Pentagon’s deputy assistant secretary for Indo-Pacific security affairs, told a House hearing on Sept. 22 that the total would be brought down to between 4,000 and 5,000 by the end of November.

Further reductions would be conditions-based, Helvey said.

Trump has been adamant about ending the U.S.’s war in Afghanistan — which entered its 20th year on Wednesday — and often speaks about bring troops home at rallies and on social media.

Some American lawmakers and Afghan officials have expressed concern that a precipitous withdrawal of foreign forces could be exploited by terrorist groups and jeopardize gains that cost the U.S. $1 trillion, and the lives of over 2,300 service members.

Shohor Gul, a retired corps commander in the Afghan army, said a U.S. withdrawal early in the intra-Afghan peace negotiations could spell disaster for the country.

“If these negotiations aren’t successful and they withdraw, I believe that the situation will be terrible in Afghanistan.”

Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report.

wellman.phillip@stripes.com
Twitter: @pwwellman

Raider Brigade soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, provide security near their armored vehicle in Afghanistan, September 21, 2018. U.S. Army Photo by SPC Christopher Bouchard
CHRISTOPHER BOUCHARD/U.S. ARMY