Pentagon uncertain on pullback date for U.S. troops in Afghanistan

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Soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division gather their equipment before boarding a CH-47F Chinook that serves with the Task Force Flying Dragons, or 1st General Support Aviation Battalion., 25th Avn. Regiment, 16th Combat Avn. Brigade, in the Nawa Valley, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan,

Photo: U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Houston | FlickrCC

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon said Thursday that the U.S. troop drawdown in Afghanistan would be contingent on the Taliban’s commitments to uphold a peace deal brokered last year.

“The Taliban have not met their commitments,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters during a press briefing.

He added that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was reviewing the matter and had discussed the path forward in the war-torn country with NATO allies and partners.

“It is under discussion with our partners and allies to make the best decisions going forward on our force presence in Afghanistan,” Kirby said, adding that the Biden administration has not made a determination.

The United States brokered a deal with the Taliban last February that would usher in a permanent cease-fire and reduce the U.S. military’s footprint from approximately 13,000 to 8,600 by mid-July last year. By May 2021, all foreign forces would leave the war-torn country, according to the deal.

Former President Donald Trump, who campaigned in 2016 on stopping “ridiculous endless wars” in the Middle East, accelerated the reduction of U.S. troops in November.

Then-acting Pentagon chief Christopher Miller announced that the Trump administration would drop its military presence in Afghanistan to 2,500 troops and in Iraq to 2,500 troops by Jan. 15.

“This decision by the president is based on continuous engagement with his national security cabinet over the past several months including ongoing discussions with me and my colleagues across the United States government,” Miller said at the Pentagon.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned that leaving Afghanistan too soon or in an uncoordinated effort could present unintended consequences for the world’s largest military organization.

“Afghanistan risks becoming once again a platform for international terrorists to plan and organize attacks on our homelands. And ISIS could rebuild in Afghanistan the terror caliphate it lost in Syria and Iraq,” the NATO chief said, referring to Islamic State militants. 

NATO joined the international security effort in Afghanistan in 2003 and currently has more than 7,000 troops in the country. NATO’s security operation in Afghanistan was launched after the alliance activated its mutual defense clause — known as Article 5 — for the first time in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

There are approximately 2,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

The wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria have cost U.S. taxpayers more than $1.57 trillion since Sept. 11, 2001, according to a Defense Department report. The war in Afghanistan, which has dragged on to become America’s longest conflict, began 19 years ago and has cost U.S. taxpayers $193 billion, according to the Pentagon.

Among the addressed issues in the deal that leave the U.S. presence up in the air are the introduction of intra-Afghan negotiations and the guarantee that Afghanistan won’t again become a refuge for terrorists.

“The secretary has been very clear, and President Biden has too, it’s time to end this war, but we want to do it responsibly, we want to do it in keeping with our national security interests and those of our Afghan partners,” Kirby told reporters at the Pentagon.

— CNBC’s Christian Nunley contributed to this report from Virginia.

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