Former US envoys warn against hasty Afghan pullout

WASHINGTON: Former US ambassadors to Afghanistan on Tuesday warned against a major troop withdrawal without a comprehensive peace accord as an envoy said he had sealed a draft deal with the Taliban.

The nine former ambassadors or senior officials — who served under presidents George W Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump — cautioned against any action that would undercut the government in Kabul.

“A major withdrawal of US forces should follow, not come in advance, of (a) real peace agreement,” the former envoys, including James Dobbins, John Negroponte and Ryan Crocker, said in a joint statement.

“The initial US drawdown should not go so far or so fast that the Taliban believe that they can achieve military victory. In that case, they will not make compromises for peace with other Afghan political forces,” they wrote in the statement released by the Atlantic Council think tank.

The Taliban have refused official talks with President Ashraf Ghani’s government, believing it is illegitimate.

“Giving way to the Taliban’s refusal to negotiate with Afghan government would let the Taliban determine with whom it will negotiate,” the former envoys said.

“Afghans deserve to determine their government and who will represent them in peace negotiations.”

The former diplomats said that they were not advocating an endless US military involvement but said that Afghanistan was no longer a “major war for us,” with Afghan forces doing most fighting.

Trump has been impatient to end the longest-ever US war, which dislodged the Taliban regime after the September 11, 2001 attacks, believing that the operation is no longer worth the cost.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the US diplomat who has led nearly a year of negotiations with the Taliban, said in Kabul on Tuesday that he had reached a deal in talks in Doha but was awaiting approval by Trump.

Khalilzad told Afghanistan’s Tolo News that US troops would leave five bases and that the Taliban would in turn vow to cut ties with al Qaeda and open negotiations with the Kabul government.

US wants to withdraw thousands of troops in return for the group renouncing al Qaeda and curbing attacks

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