USA to withdraw thousands of troops from Afghanistan

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In an unprecedented move, the Trump administration has ordered the US military to begin preparations to withdraw 7,000 troops from Afghanistan, roughly half, in the coming months.

The decision was made on 18th December, at the same time as President Donald Trump's contentious decision to withdraw the US military from Syria - actions that multiple officials say precipitated Defense Secretary James Mattis' resignation announcement two days later.

General John Allen, a former commander of NATO and US forces in Afghanistan, has said that a drawdown in Afghanistan would be a mistake.

"Pulling out right now, just the announcement would create chaos in the strategy," Allen said.

There are currently about 14,000 US troops in Afghanistan, more than half of which are there as part of a larger NATO-led mission to train, advise and assist Afghan forces. Any withdrawal would be complicated by the fact that the United States is part of NATO's Resolute Support mission whilst the remaining forces are part of the US’s Operation Freedom Sentinel. It could be that the US removes the Freedom Sentinel troops and reduces their participation in Resolute Support.

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham told CNN on 20th December that "according to our military commanders and everybody I know, we want to withdraw from Afghanistan with honor and do it based on conditions on the ground."
"Based on my assessment in Afghanistan, if we withdrew anytime soon, you would be paving the way for a second 9/11," Graham said.

A Taliban official told AFP news agency: "Frankly speaking, we weren't expecting that immediate US response... we are more than happy."

Meanwhile, Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia programme at the US think-tank Wilson Center, said the impact of the withdrawal could be "devastating" and "would be a soaring propaganda victory for the Taliban, as it could boast that it managed to expel US troops even without a peace deal".

"It [would also] be a major psychological blow for Afghan forces. They have struggled mightily and [this] would be quite demoralising," he said.

It appears that US allies were not made aware of the potential withdrawal. However, security forces on the ground have told the BBC that they would not feel the effect of the pulling out 7,000 troops as long as the US continued their air support. After all, more than 100,000 troops were withdrawn in 2014 when responsibility was transferred back to the Afghan forces.

News about the Afghanistan plan comes a day after Trump ordered the "full" and "rapid" withdrawal of American troops from Syria, declaring the defeat of the so-called Islamic State. This appears to be a decision made without any planning and will leave the Kurdish forces unsupported, open to attack from Turkish forces, so-called IS remnants and the Assad regime.

The decision, a sharp reversal from previously stated policy, surprised foreign allies and US lawmakers, sparking angry rebukes, rebuttals and warnings of intensified congressional oversight even as the White House said troops are already on their way home.

"We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency," Trump tweeted the morning after.

However, regardless of the numbers present or the apparent state of the conflict, Bentley Walker will continue to proudly support the service personnel by ensuring they have fast and stable links back home.