A U.S. armored vehicle patrols in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 23, 2017. In a national address Monday, U.S. President Donald Trump reversed his past calls for a speedy exit and recommitted the U.S. to the 16-year-old conflict, saying U.S. troops must "fi...
A U.S. armored vehicle patrols in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 23, 2017. In a national address Monday, U.S. President Donald Trump reversed his past calls for a speedy exit and recommitted the U.S. to the 16-year-old conflict, saying U.S. troops must "fi...

ISLAMABAD - Russia has hailed the reported U.S. plans to pull some troops from Afghanistan as “a step in the right direction” but cast doubt on whether Washington really intends to do so.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharovav told reporters in Moscow Wednesday that the potential military drawdown could boost renewed efforts aimed at finding a negotiated end to the war between the U.S.-backed Afghan government and the Taliban.

“We have also noted a statement by the U.S. leadership about the upcoming withdrawal of up to 50 percent of the U.S. forces from Afghanistan. We consider this a step in the right direction, capable of bringing the start of the peace process close,” she said.

U.S. troops listen to a security briefing before leave their base in Logar province, Afghanistan, August 5, 2018.
US Weighs Sizable Drawdown in Afghanistan, Officials Say
President Donald Trump is considering withdrawing roughly half of the more than 14,000 U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan, senior administration officials say. Under the reported plan, about 7,000 U.S. troops would start coming home in January, and the rest would exit in the coming months in a phased drawdown.  There was no comment from the Pentagon or U.S. Central Command. The U.S. troops are part of a non-combat NATO force whose primary mission is training and advising Afghan forces in taking…

Officials in Washington last week were quoted in media reports as saying that President Donald Trump has verbally ordered military commanders to withdraw 7,000 of the more than 14,000 troops currently stationed in Afghanistan. The drawdown reportedly could begin as early as next month but neither the White House nor the Pentagon has commented on the reports.

Zakharova said Moscow is still waiting for an official explanation from Washington on the potential drawdown and noted it would be premature to draw any conclusions at this stage.

“The only thing we have to do is to see how it will be implemented in practice… All the statements that we hear from the U.S. president on the withdrawal of U.S. troops usually have nothing to do with the reality. We are still trying to understand what they are talking about at the moment,” she said.

Russia, she noted, has emphasized the need for resorting to political and diplomatic channels to seek a negotiated end to the Afghan war and repeatedly warned the U.S. and its coalition partners that “it is a mistake to stick to the military solution.”

U.S.-Taliban talks in UAE

She praised last week’s peace talks in the United Arab Emirates between the U.S. and the Afghan Taliban where representatives from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the host country were also in attendance.

“We welcome these efforts and we believe they should be transparent and reckon with the interest of the Afghan people, the neighbors and the states of the region that are directly affected by this threat rising from Afghanistan," Zakharova said.

U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, talks with local reporters at the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, Nov. 18, 2018.
US Envoy Doubts Afghan Taliban's Desire for Peace
US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad raised doubts Thursday about the Taliban's desire to end the 17-year war, after the militants refused to meet with a Kabul-backed negotiating team. While he was certain the Afghan government wanted to stop the conflict, Khalilzad told Ariana News that he questioned whether the Taliban were "genuinely seeking peace." "We have to wait and see their forthcoming steps," Khalilzad said according to a translation of the interview provided by the US embassy in Kabul. …

During the meeting with U.S. negotiators in Abu Dhabi, Taliban officials consistently demanded Washington announce a final date or timeline for withdrawing all American and other foreign troops from the country.

Some analysts say the Trump administration's reported withdrawal plans could have stemmed from the talks with the Taliban.

Officials in neighboring Pakistan, where Afghan Taliban leaders are allegedly sheltering, say they organized the Abu Dhabi peace talks at Washington’s request to help end the war in Afghanistan.

FILE - Pakistan's new Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi listens during a news conference at the Foreign Ministry in Islamabad, Pakistan, Aug. 20, 2018.
Pakistan Briefs China on Afghan Peace Initiative
Pakistan has held a fresh round of discussions with staunch ally China on the "evolving political dynamics in Afghanistan" amid reports the United States plans to reduce its military presence in the war-ravaged country. Officials said Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi traveled to Beijing Tuesday for day-long discussions with Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, and both sides underscored support for an "Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process." Last week Pakistan organized what officials…

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi also visited Moscow on Wednesday for daylong discussions with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, to brief him on progress made in the talks in Abu Dhabi.

Qureshi visited Russia after holding discussions on the peace process with leaders in Afghanistan, Iran and China as part of his four-nation trip which started on Monday.


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