Trump's promise to withdraw from Afghanistan 'by Christmas' reflects foreign policy disarray
President Trump's Wednesday night tweet that all US troops in Afghanistan "should be home by Christmas" does not appear to be an official US policy, but was hailed as a "positive move" by the Taliban.
Instead, the tweet appears to reflect a chaotic, COVID-19-plagued White House, where senior executives supposedly working in the same building fail to coordinate their statements with one another.
"We should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE men and women who will be at home in Afghanistan by Christmas!" Trump tweeted at 7:28 p.m. Easter Wednesday.
As a sign of the disjointed approach that has shaped this administration's foreign policy in general, and Afghanistan in particular, the tweet came just hours after Trump's National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien announced the United States would drop to 2,500 troops in Afghanistan early next year.
President Trump greets the White House's Truman Balcony after returning from Walter Reed Medical Center on Monday. (Erin Scott / Reuters)
If this is enforced, Trump's statement appears to render irrelevant the terms for a full US withdrawal, which were laid down in the bilateral US-Taliban peace agreement and signed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in February. Under this agreement, the United States reduced its armed forces to 8,600 by mid-July. Any cuts beyond that, however, depend on the Taliban not only ensuring that terrorist groups cannot use Afghanistan as a haven from the threats to the United States and its allies, but also sever all ties with such groups, including al-Qaeda.
Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, the US chief negotiator to the Taliban, admitted in a congressional hearing on September 22 that the Taliban had not yet met these conditions.
Earlier Wednesday, Trump's former national security adviser, retired Army Lieutenant General HR McMaster, had described the president's Afghanistan policy as "an utter disaster," which gave the impression that the United States was on its side with the Taliban against the Afghan government stand.
In fact, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid responded positively to Trump's tweet on Twitter on Thursday, using the Taliban's preferred name for himself - the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. "The Islamic Emirate welcomes these remarks and sees them as a positive step for the implementation of the agreement signed between the IEA and the US," he said in a statement.
The spokesmen for the United States Central Command, which oversees military operations in Afghanistan, and the Department of Defense directed all questions about Trump's tweet to the White House, which did not respond to a request for comment.
A retired colonel who works closely with Central Command and U.S. military headquarters in Afghanistan said Trump's tweet should not be taken seriously and there have been no changes to the military's plans for Afghanistan. "President's tweets are not an indicator of actual policy adjustments," said the retired colonel. "People in the military don't respond to political and psychological outbursts."
Rep. Will Hurd, a Texas Republican who is retiring from Congress this year and previously toured Afghanistan, Pakistan and India in his previous career as a CIA officer, also criticized the president's desire to withdraw from Afghanistan . "It is dangerous to bring US troops home before the job is done," he said in a tweet on Thursday afternoon. "Wrong move at the wrong time."
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