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Pentagon making plans for partial Afghan pullout

WASHINGTON: The US military is drafting plans to withdraw a few thousand troops from Afghanistan, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday, adding that the reduction will not affect major missions.

The drafting follows instructions from US President Donald Trump to send him options for pulling out from a war, the longest in American history.

The Post reported that the Pentagon has suggested recalling about half of what Trump was initially seeking. Even this would mark nearly a full rollback of the 3,900-troop increase the president authorised in August 2017.

But at least six senior officials of the Trump administration told The Post that the president had ordered the Pentagon to prepare the withdrawal of up to half of the roughly 14,000 US troops deployed in Afghanistan. And that’s why the US military was drafting a plan for a gradual pullout.

The Post reported that while the president wanted large removals, the Pentagon has proposed recalling “far fewer” than the 7,000 Trump had suggested.

“Military advisers have convinced him that a smaller, and slower, withdrawal is best for now — although officials cautioned that a final decision had not been reached and that the president could order a full pullout at any moment,” the report added.

One White House official told The Post that the president “heard every single argument on Afghanistan he could hear” but he “continues to complain that many of his advisers want him to stay in all these wars forever”.

Noting that former US defence secretary Jim Mattis resigned last month following differences over the withdrawal plans, the report added that even a smaller pullout “would stand as a symbol that Trump is serious about getting out of the war, even if he is convinced for now that it is not possible”.

Senator Lindsey Graham, Trump’s closest ally in the US Congress, told The Post that the president was “very frustrated about our progress in Afghanistan”.

But General Austin Miller, the top US commander in Afghanistan, reassured Afghans that even after a partial withdrawal. US troops will remain alongside their Afghan counterparts. “Even if I have to get a little bit smaller, we’ll be okay. We’ve thought about this before, and we will be able to do the things that you require in terms of support,” he said.

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