In open split, Trump's top general, national security adviser clash on Afghanistan troop withdrawal
President Donald Trump's chief military officer and national security adviser disagree on the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.
In various public appearances, National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien and Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley have contradicted each other over whether US troops will withdraw - a clear sign of the chaos surrounding Trump's ambition to end the 19 Years War to end the weeks before the 2020 elections.
Trump himself contributed to the confusion, tweeting last week that all remaining US service members "should be ... home by Christmas".
MORE: US-backed Afghan peace talks are finally moving forward as Trump prepares another withdrawal
U.S. forces are currently withdrawing from 8,600 to 4,500 soldiers, nearly eight months after the Trump administration signed an agreement with the Taliban, the militant group that once controlled Afghanistan and al-Qaeda responsible for the 9/11 attacks -Activists Protected.
PHOTO: In this file photo dated September 17, 2020, U.S. troops guard a handover ceremony of A-29 Super Tucano aircraft from the U.S. to the Afghan Armed Forces in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Omar Sobhani / Reuters)
This deal began with a gradual withdrawal of American forces and the closure of US bases in exchange for the Taliban's pledges to open peace talks with the Afghan government and to refuse safe haven for al-Qaeda or other terrorists.
US officials, including Milley and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have vowed that the withdrawal will be "conditional", including a reduction in violence - although that obligation is not specifically provided for in the agreement.
Instead, O'Brien said last week that the number of U.S. troops would drop to 2,500 by early next year. Trump advocated "ending endless wars," added O'Brien, and said, "We cannot spend the best of American youth in Afghanistan to work on a situation that has lasted for thousands of years, these tribal wars."
MORE: Trump says it is time for U.S. troops to leave Afghanistan, undermining the Taliban deal
Days later, Milley - the senior US military official - dismissed O'Brien's comments as "speculation".
"Robert O'Brien or anyone else can speculate as he sees fit. I will not speculate. I will engage in a rigorous analysis of the situation based on the terms and plans that are known to me and mine Talks with the President, "Milley told NPR in an interview that aired Monday.
Now O'Brien has shot back: "Early next year we will be reduced to 2,500 soldiers. Some speculate this. I can guarantee you that this is the plan of the President of the United States. It is not speculation. This is the command of the Commander-in-Chief "he told the Aspen Institute on Friday.
PHOTO: National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley, and others stand for a dignified handover of remains at Dover Air Force Base, Del. (Alex Brandon / AP, FILE))
When asked about the various positions of Milley, Trump and himself, O'Brien did not name Milley, but added: "I did not speculate then, I did not speculate today. When I speak, I am speaking for the president."
He also suggested that Trump's tweet about a full retreat by Christmas was ambitious or metaphorical: "What the president did was make the same wish I think every president since the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the First World War or World War II - - All presidents, all GIs want the troops to get home by Christmas. "
The Pentagon referred questions about O'Brien's comments to the White House.
MORE: U.S. Reduces Troop Size in Iraq to 3,000
"Withdrawals should be based on local conditions, not domestic policies," Richard Haass, a former senior state department official under George W. Bush, said in a tweet. In another he added: "Gone is anything that resembles a process of interacting politics. What we have instead is the chaos of the interacting agents."
Amid mixed signals from Trump and his top advisors, local violence in Afghanistan has increased. According to Amnesty International, the fighting in Helmand province this week displaced around 35,000 people, with around 200 people killed or injured, according to the United Nations. An unborn baby was among the dead after the mother was shot, MSF reported Monday, adding the woman miraculously survived.
The Afghan government has blamed the Taliban for 575 attacks across the country in the past two weeks, including 92 landlines, six suicide attacks and the killing or wounding of 251 civilians, according to an interior ministry spokesman.
PHOTO: In this file photo dated July 26, 2020, soldiers from the Afghan National Army (ANA) walk into a U.S. military base recently handed over to Afghan forces in Achin District, Nangarhar Province. (Noorullah Shirzada / AFP via Getty Images, FILE)
U.S. chief negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad said Thursday that he and U.S. supreme general in Afghanistan Scott Miller had a series of meetings with Taliban leaders at which they agreed to roll back measures by breaking apart strictly adhered to the implementation of all elements of the US Taliban agreement and all commitments made. "
"This means fewer operations. Too many Afghans are dying at the moment. With the reset, we expect that number will drop significantly," added Khalilzad, without calling on the Taliban for these deaths.
MORE: What's in the US is to do with the Taliban to end the war and bring troops home
In their own reading, however, the Taliban did not specifically mention reducing violence, but said they "discussed at length how [the US-Taliban agreement] could be better implemented" and committed "to work on that the agreement is fully implemented. " . "
That means no less Taliban attacks, as the US-Taliban agreement did not specifically prohibit the militant group from prosecuting Afghan security forces - a way the US has been accused of undermining the Afghan government.
As peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government continue, Afghan government officials have argued more openly that the militant group has no interest in peace and that US forces should remain. Otherwise, the spokesman for the Afghan President said earlier this week: "What's in it for Afghanistan? More widows, orphans and endless misery."
In open rift, Trump's top general clash of national security advisors over the withdrawal of Afghan troops originally appeared on abcnews.go.com
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