Washington, Sep 23 (PTI) Amidst ongoing peace negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government, the Pentagon has said that it is conducting 'prudent planning' to withdraw all US troops from the war-torn country by May next year, cautioning at the same time that such a move is based on conditions.
'I'd like to make clear that the Secretary (of Defence) has not issued orders to reduce military personnel below this 4,000 to 5,000 level in Afghanistan, although we are conducting prudent planning to withdraw to zero service members by May 2021, if conditions warrant per the US-Taliban agreement,” said Assistant Secretary of Defence for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs David F Helvey.
Testifying before the National Security Subcommittee of House Oversight and Reform Committee during a Congressional hearing on Afghanistan on Tuesday, Helvey said that the US forces have adjusted to adhere to America's commitments within the agreement that was signed by the US with the Taliban on February 29.
The US has reduced its force level to 8,600 and handed over five bases to its Afghan partners, he said.
'The US forces continue to defend the ANDSF (Afghan forces) against attacks by the Taliban, and we are not conducting offensive attacks against the Taliban,' he said, adding that the US troops presence in Afghanistan is conditions-based.
'This August, the president made a determination that the conditions in Afghanistan were sufficient to reduce force presence to between 4,000 and 5,000 by the end of November 2020. At this force level, we maintained the core aspects of the train, advise, and assist, and our counterterrorism mission. First and foremost, however, we're maintaining the ability to protect the force in Afghanistan,' Helvey said.
He asserted that the Taliban must uphold their counterterrorism guarantees to the US. The US also expects the Taliban to meaningfully participate in Afghan peace negotiations, and to do their part in preventing outside actors from negatively impacting the peace process, he added.
'Right now, based on the conditions, the plan is to achieve somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 US service personnel in Afghanistan by the end of November 2020,' he said.
“We've received no orders. The Secretary (of defense) has issued no orders to reduce below that level at that time. Obviously, the terms of the agreement specifies zero by May of 2021, but this is fundamentally conditions-based,' Helvey said.
For progress towards peace to continue, the Taliban must reduce violence against the Afghan security forces and Afghan civilians.
Responding to a question, Helvey said that there has been reduction in fatalities of American troops in Afghanistan.
'In 2019, the numbers were slightly elevated, as violence had increased as the Taliban was posturing. But in recent years the numbers were, in 2018, 13 service personnel were killed; 2017, there was 11. In 2016, there were nine. But since the February 29 agreement was signed, there have been no US service personnel killed in Afghanistan,” he said. PTI LKJ ZH ZH