Taliban balking at U.S. timetable, wants one-year pullout from Afghanistan

March 5, 2019

Taliban negotiators are rejecting the Trump administration’s proposal to pull out all American forces from Afghanistan within the next three to five years, saying they want all 14,000 U.S. troops gone by next year.

The demand came a day after Taliban fighters stormed a joint U.S.- Afghan military base in the southern part of the country, leaving 25 Afghan soldiers dead.

The American negotiating delegation, led by U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, has yet to make a counteroffer, although American officials say the talks are the most extensive, high-level talks with the insurgent group ever.

The administration’s initial proposal would have all U.S. forces out by 2024, in line with demands by Mr. Trump to begin cycling out half of all troops 7,000 in all within the next year. The New York Times first reported details of the White House’s plans for a full withdrawal.

The Taliban demand for a one-year withdrawal timeline has not derailed the ongoing peace talks in Qatar. The most recent round negotiations took place over the weekend in Doha, as both sides continued to inch closer to a deal ending the war, which has now entered in its 18th year.

The three- to five-year withdrawal plan would allow the Trump administration to have “a justification to show to the world they weren’t defeated like the Soviets and suddenly left Afghanistan,” former Taliban leader Sayed Akbar Agha told Bloomberg, explaining why the group’s leaders had rejected it.

The 2024 deadline was part of the initial withdrawal plan drafted between the Obama administration and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in 2014, and was included in the Bilateral Security Agreement signed by Washington and Kabul that year, according to Bloomberg who first reported details of the Taliban’s recent decision.

But the Ghani government has been largely sidelined during the U.S.-Taliban peace talks, complicating hopes of a full-scale reconciliation.