Afghanistan worry a U.S. troop withdrawal could prompt a major attack

Afghan officials say they fear a major attack could be launched by the Taliban across the country as U.S. and other coalition forces withdraw their forces. Gen. Scott Miller, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan,…

Afghanistan worry a U.S. troop withdrawal could prompt a major attack

Afghan officials say they fear a major attack could be launched by the Taliban across the country as U.S. and other coalition forces withdraw their forces. Gen. Scott Miller, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has said he will announce troop reductions to the Defense Department after traveling to Kabul later this week. The plan is expected to begin within a few weeks, and the U.S. military has said troops could come home as soon as this fall.

The withdrawal will leave Afghanistan’s security even more precarious, but President Donald Trump has pledged to bring “victory” to Afghanistan.

American troops had already left at the end of 2014, but the drawdown had limited consequences as it took several years to shrink the force to a wartime low of 8,400 soldiers. The pullout begins after Afghanistan elected a new president who supported negotiations with the Taliban, and fighting has subsided significantly.

The pullout was in part inspired by Afghan complaints that the military force grew overstretched in a decade-long war that has killed large numbers of Americans. For the most part, the Pentagon’s withdrawal plans are not expected to affect the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, as they will simply be replaced by local forces. But the number of coalition troops is expected to shrink as Afghans gain control over their security.

As the Defense Department finalizes its planned withdrawal, Afghan officials have begun to worry that the military will break apart with the American help. “This withdrawal is very dangerous for the security of the country,” said defense and security adviser to President Ashraf Ghani, Murad Ali Murad.

Ghani plans to close all the U.S. bases in Afghanistan and to base even more Afghan forces at camps owned by the government, rather than on the bases they previously shared with the American forces.

Mullah Muhammad Qasim, a Taliban commander who oversees the northern parts of the country, has threatened to attack American, British and Afghan bases in his eastern border region. He said the Islamic State in Afghanistan also planned attacks on bases to make it difficult for U.S. forces to leave Afghanistan.

The withdrawal plan has raised fears that it will also complicate efforts to win over Afghan civilian leaders and reassurance of support from Americans.

Defense officials have said the retreat will leave the Afghan security forces dependent on a role mainly as advisers. U.S. officials are working to ease the concerns of local Afghan leaders of that transition period.

The pullout plan is just part of the same American strategy that was so controversial when it was adopted in 2016. U.S. officials said that the push to win over Afghan civilian leaders and reassure Afghan leaders that they would not be abandoned had grown in importance.

A Times analysis of defense spending since 2002, tracking the increase of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, shows that the number of NATO troops in Afghanistan peaked at 140,000 in 2008, then fell to 134,000 in 2014. In 2015, when the drawdown began under the previous president, Abdullah Abdullah, NATO troops had been at 105,000. Today, after more than 16 years of fighting, NATO military forces are at about 50,000.

In announcing the drawdown plan last spring, the then-defense secretary, Jim Mattis, said the decision was part of a broader strategy of reducing the number of U.S. troops to about 3,000 to 4,000 soldiers by the end of 2017, including support troops. The withdrawals will continue over the course of 2018.

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