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US pulling troops from Afghanistan despite lack of Taliban peace deal: report

The U.S. has begun winding down its troop presence in Afghanistan despite the lack of a working peace deal with Taliban forces, according to the New York Times.

Gen. Austin S. Miller, the top American commander in the country, said in a news conference Monday that over the last year troop levels in the country were reduced by 2,000 to about 12,000 overall, according to the Times.

American and Afghan officials told The Times anonymously that troop levels could eventually be further reduced to 8,600, which is about the level agreed upon in the initial draft agreement developed with the Taliban before President Trump abruptly ended peace talks with the militant group last month, citing their killing of a U.S. soldier in a Kabul attack.

A senior Afghan official told the newspaper the Afghan government has agreed to the troop level reduction but officials would not discuss any other details of the reduction, according to the Times.

Trump has repeatedly emphasized his desire to pull the U.S. out of the country after nearly two decades of conflict there, according to the Times, although early efforts by U.S. negotiators attempted to convince the Taliban the U.S. was committed to remaining in the nation and the extremist group would not be able to wait U.S. forces out.

Since the collapse of peace talks, American diplomats have attempted to keep talks with the Taliban alive in some form, including an informal meeting between Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. chief negotiator, and Taliban officials in Pakistan earlier in October.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has also called a formal peace deal the “best way forward,” according to the Times. General Miller has named 8,600 as the minimum number of troops necessary to support the Afghan military.

The Taliban, meanwhile, have closely monitored northeastern Syria since the U.S. withdrew from the region, clearing the way for a Turkish offensive against Kurdish forces in the area.

“The U.S. follows its interests everywhere, and once it doesn’t reach those interests, it leaves the area. The best example of that is the abandoning of the Kurds in Syria,” Khairullah Khairkhwa, one of the Taliban’s senior negotiators, was quoted as saying in an interview posted on the insurgent group’s website recently. “It’s clear the Kabul administration will face the same fate.”

The Hill has reached out to the Pentagon for comment.

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