‘Good step’: Taliban welcome US troop drawdown from Afghanistan

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The Taliban on Wednesday welcomed the Pentagon’s announcement it would soon pull about 2,000 US troops from Afghanistan as a “good step” that will help end the country’s long-running conflict.

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The Pentagon announced Tuesday that the US will slash troop levels in Afghanistan and Iraq to their lowest levels in nearly 20 years of war after President Donald Trump pledged to end conflicts abroad.

“It is a good step and in the interest of the people of both countries,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP, referring to the US and Afghanistan.

“The sooner the foreign forces leave, the more the war will be prevented.”

Critics have expressed concerns that a precipitous departure could embolden the Taliban and erode gains made since 2001, when US-led forces ousted the hardline extremists in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

The latest Pentagon move would see 2,000 US troops quit Afghanistan by January 15, less than a week before President-elect Joe Biden is expected to be sworn into office.

The withdrawal follows outgoing President Donald Trump’s plan to end US military involvement in Afghanistan.

Under a deal signed February 29, the Trump administration agreed to pull all foreign forces from the country by May 2021.

In return, the Taliban promised not to attack US forces and said they would stop transnational extremist groups like Al-Qaeda and Islamic State from operating in the country.

Germany, which has hundreds of troops in northern Afghanistan, on Wednesday said it was worried the speedy US withdrawal could affect the bid to find peace in Afghanistan.

“We are particularly concerned over what the US announcement could mean for the continuation of peace talks in Afghanistan,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.

“We should not create additional hurdles -- something that a hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan would most certainly lead to.”

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