The decision to pull around half of the 14,000 American troops in Afghanistan has stunned and dismayed diplomats and officials in Kabul, and comes amid a renewed push for talks with the Taliban to end the 17-year war.
Observers in Islamabad and Kabul believe the reduction in troops followed the direct talks between the United States and Taliban, as recommended by Pakistan has elevated its standing in the region.
But the Taliban said the withdrawal could in fact assist peace efforts by helping to build trust. The U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation retreated into a training and advising role. Officials now worry that any move to withdraw US troops this year could dampen those prospects and simply encourage the Taliban to wait it out until they can take advantage of the gaps when the forces leave.
Afghan government has accused the Taliban extremist group of not being committed to peace process by refusing to negotiate with the Afghan peace negotiators recently in Abu Dhabi.
The already worsening security situation in Afghanistan is likely to be exacerbated by a US troop reduction, according to analysts.
US to withdraw 7000 troops from Afghanistan
Peace talks aside, the announced withdrawal has Afghan generals and analysts anxious about the ability of the beleaguered Afghan National Afghan Security Force to stave off a Taliban insurgency unfettered by USA troops and their pounding air power. Three U.S. presidents have pledged to bring peace to Afghanistan, either by adding or withdrawing troops, by engaging the Taliban or shunning them, and by struggling to combat widespread corruption in the government. Observers, however, have warned that the U.S. withdrawal could have a "devastating" impact on stability in Kabul and any such move would offer Taliban militants a psychological edge in the conflict and propaganda victory.
On Friday, Harun Chakhansuri, a top spokesman for Afghan president Ashraf Ghani, however, told media that Washington's drawdown would have no major impact on Afghanistan's ability to defend itself.
President Donald Trump has long pushed to pull troops out of Afghanistan, considering the war a lost cause. He said most of the U.S. forces likely to be withdrawn "are engaged in a training and advising mission for Afghan forces, and Afghan forces are capable of defending the country".
"It's becoming clear that Kabul was blindsided", says Smith.
"Considering the decision as a serious US endgame step, political elites in Kabul will probably aim to close ranks and raise questions about the timing and commitments made to maintain stability", says Omar Samad, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Atlantic Council and former Afghan diplomat.
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