Donald Trump's Syria and Afghanistan drawdowns are playing right into the Taliban's hands
- President Donald Trump's decision to pull troops out of northeastern Syria two weeks ago shocked the international community and US troops alike, many of whom expressed shock at the US's willingness to abandon its allies, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
- But a negotiator with the Taliban in Afghanistan said that Trump's move indicates that he'll do the same thing to the Afghan government - pulling troops out with no warning and no plan, and losing a major bargaining chip with the Taliban in future negotiations.
- In fact, the US has quietly declined to replace soldiers who are being cycled out of Afghanistan, with about 2,000 troops leaving the country over the past year - without a peace deal.
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President Donald Trump's push to get out of "forever wars" in Syria and Afghanistan is sending the signal to the Taliban that the US is willing to sacrifice its most powerful bargaining chip - military presence in Afghanistan - in any future negotiations with the terrorist organisation.
"The U.S. follows its interests everywhere, and once it doesn't reach those interests, it leaves the area," Khairullah Khairkhwa, one of the Taliban's senior negotiators, said recently, The New York Times reported.
"The best example of that is the abandoning of the Kurds in Syria. It's clear the Kabul administration will face the same fate," Khairkhwa added.
The US has quietly withdrawn roughly 2,000 troops from Afghanistan over the past year, bringing the total number down to somewhere between 12,000 to 13,000, Gen. Austin S. Miller, the top US commander in Afghanistan, said Monday. The US hasn't issued a formal withdrawal order, but has rather declined to replace soldiers ending their deployment in the country.
In peace talks between the US and the Taliban that were recently abandoned, the US had sought to use the withdrawal of troops from the country as a bargaining chip. The revelation that the US has already pulled out thousands of troops despite a lack of a solid peace deal underscores the perception Trump is recklessly retreating from commitments to the benefit of US adversaries.
The US now has less leverage when it comes to getting the Taliban to agree to ramping down violent activities while also working to thwart the activities of ISIS-Khorasan, the Islamic State group's (ISIS) branch in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Trump's critics have said they're not opposed to ramping down US military presence in such countries in general, but fundamentally disagree with his abrupt approach.
Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, recently told Insider: "It's not outrageous to come up with a plan to withdraw troops out of Syria, what's outrageous is to do it with no plan."
The Pentagon is now preparing for a potential spur-of-the-moment withdrawal from Afghanistan in light of Trump's Syria retreat, according to NBC News, which blindsided military officials.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Monday said that the situations in Afghanistan and Syria are "very, very different," and that the US does not have a "longstanding commitment" to Kurdish forces in the same way it does to Afghan security forces.
But the US had made promises to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that if they dismantled defensive positions along the Syrian-Turkish border, they would be protected from a Turkish military incursion. The SDF followed through on its end of the bargain under the perception the US would have its back, and then Trump abandoned them. Viewed through that lens, Afghan security forces have no reason to trust the US at its word.
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