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Afghan defense chief reassures the country after Trump ‘order’

KABUL: Defense Minister Asadullah Khalid said on Tuesday that the Afghan National Army was capable of defending the nation after the further departure of US forces from the country in the next few months, even as experts warned against an “irresponsible” withdrawal of foreign troops.

“People should not worry about the withdrawal of foreign forces from the country. The Afghan forces are fully capable of defending the country … (and) were responsible for 96 percent of the operations,” he said.

Khalid’s comments were part of an address to the Afghan parliament on Tuesday, a day after media reports said US President Donald Trump had issued a “warning order” to reduce the number of troops from 4,500 to 2,500 by Jan. 15, after more than 19 years of war in Afghanistan.

Many locals and foreign observers worry that Afghanistan might slide back into a civil war after the move, especially in the absence of a peace deal between Kabul and the Taliban, and amid a surge in attacks across the country which each group blames the other for.

“There is the likelihood of Afghanistan heading to civil strife and becoming the ground for confrontation of proxy groups of the countries in the region,” former deputy defense minister Tamim Asey tweeted on Tuesday. “In that case Afghanistan will turn into another Syria or Libya.” He expressed concern that Kabul would descend into the kind of chaos that afflicted the country in the 1990s after the Soviet forces left the country.

Experts believe that while the troops’ withdrawal has been one of Kabul’s long-standing demands, it should not be done in a “hasty manner.”

“We don’t want the American troops here forever, but at the same time, we don’t want an irresponsible withdrawal either,” Javid Faisal, an adviser to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s National Security team, told Arab News.

The complete departure of all foreign forces from the country was a pillar of the historic accord between Washington and the Taliban in February this year after more than two years of secret talks excluding Ghani’s government.

The accord led to an unprecedented souring of ties between Ghani and Trump’s administrations

A central part of the February deal was the start of peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban.

The insurgent group was toppled by Washington in late 2001 after they refused to hand over Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.

The agreement also pushed for the exchange of prisoners between Kabul and the Taliban. Ghani has released more than 6,000 insurgents in recent months, leading to the start of the intra-Afghan talks in Doha, Qatar on Sept. 12 to end decades of conflict between Kabul and the Taliban.

However, the two sides have failed to draw a roadmap for negotiations, let alone engage in serious discussions.

With Joe Biden winning the US presidential elections against Trump nearly two weeks ago, a sense of hope has awakened among some Afghan leaders in Kabul that Biden may not order a complete withdrawal of troops, with some calling on the President-elect to review the accord with the Taliban.

Other experts, however, believe that the US should not invest more in retaining troops within the country which “enriches some and keeps them in power.”

Ahmad Fawad Samim, a former adviser at the World Bank, said that Americans “overwhelming favor” the complete withdrawal of troops as they have become “tired of dealing with corrupt, inept Afghan officials.”

“If we think the American soldiers will fight for us forever, we are wrong. If we think the US government will sponsor our luxurious lifestyles, bank accounts, NGOs, armored vehicles … we are daydreaming,” he said.

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