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US troop pullout from Afghanistan ahead of schedule

US troop pullout from Afghanistan ahead of schedule

AFP
Kabul
The US military withdrawal from Afghanistan is considerably ahead of schedule, an official told AFP on Wednesday, as President Donald Trump reiterated calls for the Pentagon to bring troops home.
The developments came as questions loomed over the next phase of Afghanistan’s long war following a historic, three-day ceasefire that led to a major drop in civilian casualties.
The truce, which the Taliban called to mark the Muslim celebration of Eid al-Fitr, ended Wednesday, leaving Afghans anxious about whether it would be extended, or when the war might come raging back.
Violence levels remained low even after the end of the ceasefire, but Afghan security forces conducted air strikes in the south that killed 18 “militants”, police said.
Under a deal the US signed with the Taliban in February, the Pentagon was to bring troop levels down from about 12,000 to 8,600 by mid-July, before withdrawing all forces by May 2021.
But a senior US defence official said the troop number was already at approximately 8,500, as commanders accelerate the withdrawal over fears of the coronavirus.
“The drawdown was accelerated due to COVID-19 precautions,” the official told AFP, noting that the departure of anyone with health concerns or over a certain age was being prioritised.
Trump told reporters Tuesday the US force level was “down to 7,000-some-odd soldiers right now”.
The next day he returned to a frequent complaint that America should not be acting as a “police force” in Afghanistan.
“After 19 years, it is time for them to police their own Country,” Trump wrote on Twitter.
“Bring our soldiers back home but closely watch what is going on and strike with a thunder like never before, if necessary!”
Afghans enjoyed a rare respite in the nearly 19-year-old war during the ceasefire, only the second of its type.
No major violence was reported until after the pause ended Wednesday with air strikes in southern Zabul province.
The strikes killed 18 militants in response to an attack on a security forces convoy in Shah Joy district, provincial police spokesman Lal Mohammad Amiri told AFP.

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