Politics

​US to speed up troop withdrawal from Afghanistan

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US troop strength in Afghanistan is down to nearly 8,600, ahead of schedule agreed with Taliban militants in late February, partly because of concerns about the spread of the coronavirus, US and NATO officials said.

A key provision of the Feb. 29 agreement between the Taliban and the United States, to which the Afghan government was not a party, involved a US commitment to reduce its military footprint in Afghanistan from about 13,000 to 8,600 by mid-July and, conditions permitting, to zero by May 2021, according to Reuters.

Two senior sources in Kabul said the 8,600 target was likely to be achieved by early June.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, two US officials said that the United States was close to 8,600 troops and could reach that number in the coming days.

“Due to COVID-19 concerns, we are moving towards that planned drawdown faster than anticipated,” one of the officials said.

The other US official said the United States had focused on quickly removing non-essential personnel and those considered to be at high risk from the virus.

US forces are in Afghanistan to conduct counter-insurgency operations. A few thousand US soldiers work with troops from 37 NATO partner countries to train, advise, and assist Afghan forces.

On Tuesday, US President Donald Trump, there were “7,000-some-odd” US soldiers in Afghanistan, but officials clarified that the number was slightly over 8,600 troops.

Trump renewed his desire for a full military withdrawal from Afghanistan but added that he had not set a target date, amid speculation he might make ending America’s longest war part of his re-election campaign.

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