ISLAMABAD - Top government officials in Afghanistan are downplaying reports the United States may be planning to withdraw U.S. troops, saying local forces are independently conducting almost all security operations across the country and rely only on a small aerial support from foreign partners.
U.S. media reports say President Donald Trump intends to reduce the number of American troops in Afghanistan to 2,500 from the existing 4,500. VOA has been unable to confirm the reports and there has been, so far, no official announcement of a U.S. troop drawdown.
On Tuesday, Afghan Defense Minister Asadullah Khalid, while addressing the parliament, attempted to ease growing domestic concerns that an abrupt foreign troop withdrawal from the country would undermine his government's ability to battle Taliban insurgents.
Khalid noted that currently Afghan security forces carry out 96% of operations against the Taliban on their own and receive four percent aerial support from foreign partners.
The defense minister, however, insisted he did not foresee a complete departure of international forces from Afghanistan.
Speculation about a possible U.S. troop cutback comes as peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban have stalled and battlefield violence across the turmoil-hit country have intensified, killing dozens of combatants and non-combatants every day.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has cautioned Trump against abruptly pulling out of Afghanistan.
"A rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan now would hurt our allies and delight the people who wish us harm. Violence affecting Afghans is still rampant. The Taliban is not abiding by the conditions of the so-called peace deal," McConnell said in a statement.
He was referring to a peace-building agreement the Trump administration signed with the Taliban in February that requires all U.S. and NATO troops to leave Afghanistan by May 2021. In return, the insurgents are bound to fight terrorism on Afghan soil and negotiate a permanent cease-fire as well as political reconciliation with rival Afghan factions.
"We'd be abandoning our partners in Afghanistan, the brave Afghans who are fighting the terrorists and destroying the government's leverage in their talks with the Taliban to end the fighting," McConnell warned.
"Our retreat would embolden the Taliban, especially the deadly Haqqani wing, and risk plunging Afghan women and girls back into what they experienced in the 1990s," said the U.S. senator while referring to the former Taliban regime in Kabul when women were barred from outdoor activities and girls were not allowed to receive education.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also warned Tuesday the military alliance could pay a heavy price for leaving Afghanistan “too soon or in an uncoordinated way”. NATO has under 12,000 troops in the war-ravaged country, nearly half of them Americans.