US President Donald Trump’s tweet calling for US troops in Afghanistan to be home by Christmas may have given the Taliban the upper hand in peace negotiations, according to Afghanistan’s chief peace negotiator.
A complete US withdrawal from Afghanistan — after 19 years of war — is a major Taliban goal in their ongoing negotiations with the Afghan government, and Trump has made it clear that he would also see this as a foriegn policy victory.
Negotiations between the Taliban and government over a post-US power-sharing agreement have been slow and beset by ongoing violence in the country.
The Afghan government’s chief negotiator, Abdullah Abdullah, has warned that a recent tweet by Trump, in which he declared that the remaining US forces in Afghanistan “should” be home for Christmas, may further beleaguer the country’s already difficult peace and reconciliation process.
Abdullah told the Financial Times that the Taliban “might see it in their advantage” and come back by force if the US withdrew.
A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahed, said he considered the comments a positive step for the implementation of the US-Taliban peace agreement, adding that the group remains “committed to the contents of the agreement and hope for good and positive relations with all countries.”
But concerns have regularly been raised by observers — much like those of Abdullah — that a complete US withdrawal could embolden the Taliban to abandon the peace process and seek to seize power.
“This would be a big disaster,” a Pakistan Foreign Ministry official told the FT. “The Taliban who welcomed Trump’s remarks will then consider Afghanistan to be free to conquer and install an Islamist government,” they said.
The US currently has fewer than 5,000 troops remaining in the country as part of a NATO mission, down from a peak of over 100,000 in 2010.
The peace talks have so far yielded few results, though they were always expected to be long and arduous. They have been further complicated by a surge in violence in Afghanistan that has seen the US conduct airstrikes against the Taliban, and up to 5,600 families fleeing their homes in Helmand province.