KABUL: The top US commander in Afghanistan has not received orders to pull forces out of the war-torn country, NATO confirmed Monday, days after President Donald Trump’s plan to withdraw 7,000 troops leaked to the media.
General Scott Miller’s remarks on Sunday capped a tumultuous few days for Afghanistan as foreign diplomats and Afghan officials digested the possibility of the United States exiting the 17-year war it started and is now leading efforts to end.
An American official told AFP late last week that Trump had decided to pull out “roughly half” of the 14,000 US forces in the country, but the White House has so far not confirmed the widely-publicized move.
“I have no orders, so nothing has changed,” said Miller, who is also the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, during a meeting with the governor of the eastern province of Nangarhar, according to Tolo News.
The remarks were confirmed by NATO’s Resolute Support mission in Kabul.
“But if I do get orders, I think it is important for you to know that we are still with the security forces. Even if I have to get a little bit smaller, we will be okay,” Miller continued.
US troops make up the bulk of the Resolute Support mission to train and advise local forces fighting the Taliban and the Daesh group.
Others are part of a US-led counter-terrorism mission.
While there has been no official announcement of a US drawdown, the mere suggestion of the United States reducing its military presence has rattled the Afghan capital.
Trump’s decision apparently came Tuesday as US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad met with the Taliban in Abu Dhabi, part of efforts to bring the militants to the negotiating table with Kabul.
The Taliban has not issued a formal statement on Trump’s plan, but a senior commander told AFP the group was “more than happy.”
There are fears the hasty move could undermine Khalilzad’s negotiating position, embolden the Taliban, and further erode morale among Afghan forces, which are suffering record losses.
Many Afghans are worried that President Ashraf Ghani’s fragile unity government would collapse if US troops pulled out, enabling the Taliban to return to power and potentially sparking another bloody civil war.
A day after Miller’s remarks, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi arrived in Kabul for the start of a four-nation tour to discuss, among other things, peace efforts in Afghanistan.
Qureshi, who had hailed Trump’s decision to slash troop numbers in Afghanistan as “a step forward” in the peace effort, will also visit Iran, China and Russia.