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Report: Trump will pull back half of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan

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Afghanistan Cost Of War

In this Oct. 31, 2018 photo, Afghan National Army soldiers carry out a training exercise at the Afghan Military Academy in Kabul, Afghanistan. When U.S. forces and their Afghan allies rode into Kabul in November 2001 they were greeted as liberators. But after 17 years of war, the Taliban have retaken half the country, security is worse than it’s ever been, and many Afghans place the blame squarely on the Americans. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

  • A U.S. envoy appointed in September had been attempting peace negotiations aimed at ending America's longest war, now in its 17th year.
  • The U.S. has spent nearly $1 trillion since 2001 to oust the Taliban after they harbored Osama bin Laden and insurgents who carried out the 9/11 attacks against America.
  • Now Trump, at the same time as planning to pull troops from Syria, appears to want to get out of Afghanistan.

The Wall Street Journal and New York Times are reporting that the Trump administration will withdraw about 7,000 soldiers from Afghanistan in the coming months -- about half of all troops deployed.

The move is likely one of the first steps to end the United States’ involvement in the 17-year-old war.

According to the Times, citing two defense officials, Trump made the decision at the same time he decided he was pulling American forces out of Syria.

The 14,000 American troops currently in Afghanistan are divided between training and advising Afghan forces and a counterterror mission against groups like the Islamic State and Al Qaeda. The reduction, the Times quoted an official as saying, is in an effort to make Afghan forces more reliant on their own troops and not Western support.

Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich, a Pentagon spokeswoman, declined comment.

Trump has long been critical of the US presence in Afghanistan, which began in 2001 after the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has questioned US investment in the country, asking in 2011, "When will we stop wasting our money on rebuilding Afghanistan? We must rebuild our country first."

Since his election, Trump has made his frustration with the continued presence clear. Outlining his strategy for the country in an August 2017 address, the President said, "I share the American people's frustration. I also share their frustration over a foreign policy that has spent too much time, energy, money — and, most importantly, lives — trying to rebuild countries in our own image instead of pursuing our security interests above all other considerations."

In an interview with The Washington Post last month, Trump laid out his rationale for keeping US troops in the country in a way that made clear the impetus to remain wasn't his.

"We're there because virtually every expert that I have and speak to say if we don't go there, they're going to be fighting over here," he said.

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the latest talks between the Taliban and a U.S. peace envoy on the war in Afghanistan focused on the withdrawal of NATO troops, the release of prisoners and halting attacks on civilians by pro-government forces.

U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who tweeted that talks held this week in the United Arab Emirates were "productive," was in Pakistan on Wednesday to meet with the chief of the country's army before heading to the Afghan capital Kabul later in the day. The UAE talks also involved Saudi, Pakistani and Emirati representatives.

The Taliban have refused to meet directly with the Afghan government, viewing it as a puppet of the U.S.

The insurgent group controls nearly half of Afghanistan, and are more powerful than at any time since a 2001 U.S.-led invasion. They carry out near-daily attacks, mainly targeting security forces and government officials.

In a significant development, three representatives of the Haqqani network — Hafiz Yahya, Saadullah Hamas and Dr. Faqeer, who goes only by a single name — were also present at the talks, according to a Taliban official, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the talks. This would be the first time a U.S. envoy has met with representatives of the Haqqani network, declared a terrorist group by Washington and considered one of the most lethal fighting forces in Afghanistan.

Two former inmates at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, ex-Taliban army chief Mohammed Fazle and former governor of western Herat province, Khairullah Khairkhwa, were also at the meetings.

The Afghan government sent a delegation that included the National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib to the UAE but it did not take part in the talks, instead holding separate talks with Khalilzad, who said he would meet with Afghan leaders later Wednesday in the Afghan capital.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said no direct talks with the Afghan government had yet been held. The Taliban view the Afghan government as an American puppet and have long demanded direct talks with the U.S.

Since being appointed in September, Khalilzad has met on several occasions with all sides to try to start direct peace negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government aimed at ending America's longest war, now in its 17th year. Washington has spent nearly $1 trillion since 2001 when it led an invasion of Afghanistan to oust the Taliban after they harbored Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida insurgent group, which carried out the 9/11 attacks against the U.S..


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