Trump warned of Afghan pullout risks

Deb Riechmann
Associated Press

Washington – Trump administration claims of progress in talks with the Taliban have sparked fears even among the president’s allies that his impatience with the war in Afghanistan will lead him to withdraw troops too soon, leaving the country at risk of returning to the same volatile condition that prompted the invasion in the first place.

Discussions between a U.S. envoy and the Taliban are advancing weeks after the administration said it wanted to begin drawing down troops in Afghanistan. That has prompted some critics to note that President Donald Trump is telegraphing a withdrawal – the same thing he accused President Barack Obama of doing by saying he wanted to end the American combat mission in 2014.

“It’s an effort to put lipstick on what will be a U.S. withdrawal,” said Ryan Crocker, a former U.S. ambassador to Kabul under Obama.

A negotiated settlement to America’s longest war poses a dilemma for Trump. He has often declared he wants to end lengthy overseas military entanglements, something he made clear in December by declaring the Islamic State group defeated in Syria and announcing he was pulling 2,000 American troops from that country over the objections of his top foreign policy advisers.

The stakes are higher in Afghanistan, a conflict that has cost 2,400 American lives and hundreds of billions in taxpayer dollars. The U.S. invaded the country to oust the Taliban and al-Qaida in October 2001 in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and the CIA director warned as recently as Tuesday that Afghanistan could once again become a terrorist haven.

But now even fellow Republicans worry that reports of progress will embolden Trump to withdraw troops from Afghanistan before the region is stable and will reintroduce the conditions that first ensnared America in the conflict. The Taliban now control nearly half the country and carry out near-daily attacks, and foreign-policy experts fear that any progress on protecting women and minorities in the country could be lost if the militant group is once again part of the government.

The top Republican in Congress, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, cautioned the president against a hasty exit from the war.

“While it is tempting to retreat to the comfort and security of our own shores, there is still a great deal of work to be done,” McConnell said Tuesday. “And we know that left untended, these conflicts will reverberate in our own cities.”

James Dobbins, special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan during the Obama administration, said Trump “seems to have abandoned” the conditions-based strategy he espoused in 2017. The future of troops in Afghanistan is anybody’s guess, he said.