War in Afghanistan
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Afghanistan is the site of America’s longest war, and 5,000 troops are currently serving there. Photo: AFP

Donald Trump wants all US troops out of Afghanistan by Christmas

  • Donald Trump, who is seeking re-election next month, has made walking away from ‘ridiculous endless wars’ the cornerstone of his foreign policy
  • It was unclear whether Trump was giving an order or verbalising a long-held aspiration

US President Donald Trump said Wednesday he wants all US troops to leave Afghanistan by Christmas, speeding up the timeline for ending America’s longest war.

“We should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas!” Trump wrote on Twitter.

In a February 29 agreement reached in Qatar with the Taliban, the United States promised to pull out all its troops by mid-2021 in return for insurgents’ promises not to allow Afghanistan to be used by extremists – the original reason for the 2001 US invasion.

After intense US cajoling, the Afghan government and Taliban last month opened peace talks in Doha, although negotiations have quickly deadlocked.

Trump’s promise comes one month before US elections in which the president, trailing in the polls, has sought to show that he is making good on his promise to draw a close to “endless wars”.

Just hours before Trump’s tweet, national security adviser Robert O’Brien said the United States had less than 5,000 troops in Afghanistan currently and would go down to 2,500 by early next year.

The White House will work off the timeline set out by the president, according to a senior administration official. At the least, Trump’s tweet puts added pressure on the Pentagon to remove forces more quickly than planned.

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The Pentagon didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.


After 19 years of US military operations Trump’s stance enjoys broad support at home including from his Democratic rival Joe Biden, who during his time as vice-president had pushed to curtail US involvement in Afghanistan.

Asked last month whether he backed Trump’s plans to withdraw troops from both Afghanistan and Iraq, Biden said: “Yes, I do. As long as he has a plan to figure out how he’s going to deal with ISIS,” the ultra-violent movement that has been active in both countries.


US, Taliban sign historic peace deal to end war in Afghanistan and withdraw US troops

US, Taliban sign historic peace deal to end war in Afghanistan and withdraw US troops

The United States first intervened in Afghanistan following the September 11 attacks and dislodged the Taliban regime, which had welcomed al-Qaeda.

But in the years since the resurgent militants have launched a fresh battle to topple the US-backed government in Kabul, with civilians bearing the brunt of spiralling violence since Nato combat troops withdrew in 2014.

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The former Taliban regime had imposed an ultraconservative brand of Islam on Afghanistan that banned music and education for girls.

The Doha talks have quickly deadlocked over the Taliban’s insistence that negotiations adhere to a strict Sunni school of jurisprudence, a step the government says would discriminate against Shiites and other minorities.

US President Donald Trump speaks to the troops during a surprise Thanksgiving day visit to Bagram Air Field, in Afghanistan in 2019. File photo: AFP

Speaking earlier Wednesday, the veteran US diplomat who negotiated with the Taliban, Zalmay Khalilzad, nonetheless voiced guarded hope for the talks.


“The overwhelming majority of the Afghans would like to see an end to the conflict,” Khalilzad, speaking by video from Doha, told a forum of the University of Chicago’s Pearson Institute.

“I believe that the Taliban are quite serious about the negotiations. Many thought that they wouldn’t sit across the table from the Afghan government – that all they wanted was an agreement for the withdrawal of US forces. But they are now sitting across the table.”


Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, visiting Doha on Tuesday, called on the Taliban to “have courage” and declare a national ceasefire.

The Trump administration had pressed Ghani’s government to release some 5,000 Taliban prisoners, a condition of the militants to start talks.

Additional reporting by Reuters

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Trump wants all US troops back home by Christmas