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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - KABUL: As he sifts through a pile of oranges at a market in Kabul, Shah Mahmoud expresses frustration at Washington’s failure to secure the country, despite 18 years of fighting.
“We do not know what America is up to here. One day, they talk about increasing the presence of troops, then later warn about a complete or gradual withdrawal. We want peace and America has clearly failed to bring us that,” the 46-year-old taxi driver said.
Some 4,000 US troops left the country on Monday. The drawdown was one of several conditions requested by the Taliban to secure the peace deal.
Some residents in Kabul have expressed dismay over what they perceive is Washington “fulfilling its own agenda,” despite having the resources and military capabilities.
“Washington was in Afghanistan for its regional goals and bringing peace was never on its agenda. Since America’s arrival here, extremism has flourished in the region, there are more problems than the past. We want them to go, but in a responsible manner,” Tawfiq Wafa, a university student, said.
Others wanted Afghanistan to expedite the exit process. “We have not felt the effectiveness of foreign and American troops in terms of stability and security,” 41-year-old hawker Abdul Aziz told Arab News in Kabul. Several university students interviewed by Arab News, such as Jamal Najib from northern Takhar, shared Aziz’s views.
“One day, US President Donald Trump says he will bring back the troops, the other day he talks of peace with Taliban and then says no withdrawal. We are all lost with America’s policies here,” Najib said.
Others expressed anxiety that the troop reduction — possibly followed by a total withdrawal in the coming years — will be disastrous for Afghanistan, which is locked by rival neighbors amid a raging Taliban insurgency and the strengthening of local militia groups.
“We do not want foreign troops here forever, but we need them to stay and help us, otherwise, the country will descend into chaos again,” said Abdul Fatah, a retired army officer, referring to the pullout of the Soviet Union’s troops in the 1980s, which was followed by an internecine war.
The government, however, said that the move will not impact the country.
“Washington’s plan for pulling out thousands of troops from Afghanistan will not impact the country’s security as US and its NATO allies are committed to continue backing national forces,” a spokesman for the Afghan government, Rohullah Ahmadzai, said on Tuesday.
During a visit to Kabul on Monday, US Senator Lindsey Graham confirmed that Trump may soon announce an American troop drawdown from Afghanistan, which would likely begin next year.
Speaking at a press conference, he said the president could reduce the troop numbers to 8,600, down from the current estimated 12,000.
Ahmadzai said local troops have gained “experience and capabilities for defending the country and conducting operations independently in recent years.
“Given this, we do not see any vacuum or threat. Details of the pullout will be worked out jointly and the international community will keep on helping us in the fight against terrorism,” he told Arab News.
During his meeting with Graham later on Monday, President Ashraf Ghani said that local forces were conducting 90 percent of the operations.
A statement released by Ghani’s office did not say if the US forces’ drawdown was part of the discussions.
In the past, he has said that Afghanistan needs only a few thousand foreign troops for its fight against militancy, despite the Taliban’s gains in some parts of the country in recent years.
At the peak of the war, some 140,000 US and NATO troops served in Afghanistan for years until a drastic drawdown in 2014.
Despite vast experience, the national forces who have been trained and equipped by the coalition still lack military hardware — specifically combat aircraft — and are bankrolled by the coalition.
The US and the Taliban are expected to resume talks, which were called off by Trump in September after insurgents attacked an American-run base north of Kabul.
Graham said America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan must be “condition-based” and that the Taliban must keep the promises it made during the talks.
Washington wants the Taliban to not allow the Afghan soil to be used against any country and US interests.
Ghani told the senator that “terrorism was joint threat” for Afghanistan and the US which needs a joint campaign.
While the US public have been calling for a withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, some politicians are still calling for keeping some troops in the country, even if Washington strikes a deal with the Taliban.
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