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Monday, November 29, 2021

Pentagon uncertain of U.S. troop withdrawal in Afghanistan as deadline looms

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1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, watch as CH-47 Chinook helicopters circle above during a dust storm at Forward Operating Base Kushamond, Afghanistan, July 17, during preparation for an air assault mission.

U.S. Army photo

WASHINGTON – The Pentagon said Monday that it has not decided on whether to withdraw U.S. troops in Afghanistan, as Washington considers a potential end to America’s longest war.

“Everybody here is mindful of looming deadlines,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters during a press briefing. “And I cannot today sketch out for you what specific planning is going on when there hasn’t been a decision made yet about future force posture in Afghanistan,” he said.

“There’s been no decision made about future force posture,” Kirby added.

Last February the United States brokered a deal with the Taliban that would usher in a permanent cease-fire and reduced further the U.S. military’s footprint from approximately 13,000 troops to 8,600 by mid-July last year.

By May 2021, all foreign forces would leave the war-weary country, according to the deal. There are about 2,500 U.S. troops currently in the country.

Last month, the world’s most powerful military alliance met to discuss an array of challenges facing the 30-member group. High on the agenda was the path forward in Afghanistan. NATO joined the international security effort in Afghanistan in 2003 and currently has more than 7,000 troops in the country.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that the alliance will continue to assess the situation on the ground in Afghanistan.

“Our aim is to make sure that we have a lasting political agreement that can make it possible for us to leave in a way that doesn’t undermine our main goal and that is to prevent Afghanistan from becoming once again a safe haven [for terrorists],” Stoltenberg said.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told reporters on the heels of the NATO meeting that the U.S. troop drawdown in Afghanistan would be contingent on a reduction of violence in the country.

“The violence must decrease, now,” Austin said, in his first press briefing with reporters. “I told our allies that no matter what the outcome of our review, the United States will not undertake a hasty or disorderly withdrawal from Afghanistan,” he said referring to the virtual NATO meetings.

“There will be no surprises. We will consult each other, consult together and decide together and act together,” Austin said of the NATO-led mission.

Read more: Biden should keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan past May deadline, study group says

The wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria have cost U.S. taxpayers more than $1.57 trillion since Sept. 11, 2001, according to a Defense Department report. The war in Afghanistan, which is now America’s longest conflict, began 19 years ago and has cost U.S. taxpayers $193 billion, according to the Pentagon.

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