Top Taliban officials on Thursday celebrated President Trump’s unexpected declaration that all U.S. troops in Afghanistan likely will be “home by Christmas,” adding more confusion to what’s become a murky timeline for America’s exit from the country.
In a statement on Twitter, a Taliban spokesperson said that the looming exit of American forces from the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” — the Taliban’s preferred name for the country — is a major step forward for a peace deal struck earlier this year between the group and the Trump administration.
“US President Donald Trump has tweeted that they should have their remaining forces in Afghanistan at home by the end of the ongoing year,” Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement. “Islamic Emirate welcomes these remarks and considers it a positive step for the implementation of the agreement signed between the IEA and the US. IEA is also committed to the contents of the agreement and hopes for good and positive relations with all countries including the US, in the future.”
The new timeline laid out by the president, should it become reality, would mark a much quicker exit than initially planned.
“We should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas,” the president said in a Twitter post on Wednesday evening.
The tweet came just hours after White House National Security Adviser Robert C. O’Brien said the U.S. planned to cut its troop presence in Afghanistan to 2,500 by early next year.
The U.S.-Taliban deal, finalized last February, called for major reductions in U.S. forces in Afghanistan in exchange for Taliban promises that the country would never again be used as a base of operations for terrorist groups such as al Qaeda. The administration moved quickly to cut the number of forces from about 13,000 to 8,500, and further reductions were expected to continue steadily until all American troops were gone by early next summer.
The withdrawal, however, is supposed to be contingent on the Taliban holding up its end of the bargain, which includes formal cease-fire talks with the U.S.-backed government in Kabul.
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