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US-Taliban Deal: Washington to Reduce Troops in Afghanistan to 8,600, Say Officials

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the leader of the Taliban delegation, signs an agreement with Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. envoy for peace in Afghanistan, at a signing agreement ceremony between members of Afghanistan's Taliban and the U.S. in Doha, Qatar. (Reuters)

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the leader of the Taliban delegation, signs an agreement with Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. envoy for peace in Afghanistan, at a signing agreement ceremony between members of Afghanistan's Taliban and the U.S. in Doha, Qatar. (Reuters)

Responding to questions, the official noted that the withdrawal of troops will not be immediate.

Washington: The US has committed to make an initial reduction in its forces in Afghanistan to 8,600 as part of its agreement with the Taliban, but there is no obligation for America to withdraw troops if the Afghan parties are unable to reach an agreement, officials said here on Saturday.

As part of its efforts to bring lasting peace in the war-torn Afghanistan and the agreement it signed with the Taliban, the US has committed to make an initial reduction in its forces in Afghanistan to 8,600. The US currently has some 13,000 troops in Afghanistan.

This is the level that General Scotts Miller, Commander of US and NATO troops in Afghanistan, had earlier identified as necessary to fulfil his mission.

The withdrawal of troops and the agreement itself move in parallel processes, a senior administration official said as the US signed an agreement with the Taliban in Doha in presence of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and a host of foreign diplomats including those from India.

"Our withdrawal is aligned with this agreement and is conditions-based. If the political settlement fails, if the talks fail, there is nothing that obliges the United States to withdraw troops," said the official, who spoke on conditions of anonymity.

"That's not to say that the President doesn't have prerogatives as Commander-in-Chief of the United States of America to make any decision that he feels appropriate as our President, but there is no obligation for the United States to withdraw troops if the Afghan parties are unable to reach agreement or if the Taliban show bad faith in the course of this negotiation," the official said.

Responding to questions, the official noted that the withdrawal of troops will not be immediate.

The reduction of troops to 8,600 is part of the initial agreement and it will play out over several months. "It doesn't happen immediately. It takes a while to get out. It's not going to happen overnight. But that is the commander on the ground's recommendation, that is the President's intention, and that's in the agreement," said the official.

According to another senior administration official, America's commitment to act on the drawdown is tied to the Taliban's action on their commitments in the agreement, which include in detail counter terrorism commitments, because that was US' priority concern, but also includes their engagement in these negotiations.

As far as the long-term goal, the President's aspiration remains ultimately to bring a political settlement here, end the war, and end the US military commitment to Afghanistan, the official said.

"The President does not seek a permanent commitment of US forces to a war in Afghanistan. There are a lot of ways that we can and will continue to work with the Afghan Government in the aftermath of a political settlement, and there's many venues of cooperation between us and them, but it is the President's ambition to reach a political settlement and have the United States forces leave and end the fight. That is his goal," the official said.