Abdullah warns early troop withdrawal could hand Taliban an advantage

President Donald Trump’s tweet last week stating US troops should be home by Christmas could give the Taliban the upper hand, Afghanistan’s Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah said.

Abdullah told the Financial Times that there was still uncertainty over the drawdown of troops and he blamed the confusion on the upcoming US presidential elections.

“Nobody has given any clarity,” said Abdullah. The Taliban who thought “that if the US withdraws then they can come back by force … they might see it in their advantage.”

Trump’s tweet last week came just hours after his national security adviser Robert O’Brien’s announcement that US troop levels would be reduced to about 2,500 by early next year and until now, no one in Washington has clarified the contradictory remarks.

All that has been said, which was announced a few months ago, was that US troops in Afghanistan would be down to 4,500 by November.

The Taliban meanwhile welcomed Trump’s tweet last week and told CBS News at the time they hoped the US president would win re-election and that he would “wind up US military presence in Afghanistan.”

Andrew Watkins, senior analyst for Afghanistan at the International Crisis Group, told Financial Times that Trump’s “tweets create uncertainty and there was already a high degree of uncertainty among the Afghans. An early withdrawal destabilizes their future.”

“It erodes and degrades the relationship between the United States and Afghan government, which was already fragile to begin with,” he said.

Discussing peace talks, which are underway in Doha currently, between the Afghan Republi’s team and the Taliban, Abdullah said the first goal of negotiations was to agree on a code of conduct, which could involve a reduction in violence, before setting an agenda.

He said the negotiating teams were “far from” discussing a power-sharing arrangement.