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Trump To Order Thousands Of U.S. Troops Withdrawn From Afghanistan

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President Trump has 64 days before he leaves office. He plans to spend some of that time speeding the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and Iraq. A formal announcement is expected as early as today. NPR has learned the plan would leave the United States with just 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, which we will discuss with NPR's Diaa Hadid in Islamabad, Pakistan. Welcome to the program.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Isn't this a much faster withdrawal than the U.S. had planned?

HADID: Yeah. According to the U.S.-Taliban deal that was signed in February, the troops were supposed to withdraw on a timeline as the Taliban met conditions.

INSKEEP: Oh, meeting conditions, meaning the Taliban were involved in this complicated peace deal, were supposed to do certain things before the troops left. But now the president is saying we're just going to go before he leaves office January 20, presumably. What do Afghans say about this?

HADID: Well, they're upset. And there's also a sense of anger. I spoke to a senior official this morning. His name is Javed Faisal (ph) and he told me this. Have a listen.

JAVED FAISAL: Afghans do not want the U.S. to stay here forever. We want the withdrawal to be a very responsible one, and we don't expect our ally to burn the house once it leaves.

HADID: Did you hear that? He said they don't want their allies to burn down their house as they leave, and that's because they're worried that a hasty withdrawal could embolden the Taliban because it signals to them that they don't have to abide by commitments for foreign forces to go.

INSKEEP: Well, is the Taliban doing anything that they are supposed to do as part of this peace agreement with the U.S. in exchange for U.S. troops leaving?

HADID: Yes and no. They are abiding by two key commitments. They're not attacking foreign forces and they are engaging in peace talks with the Afghan government, although they've been at a stalemate nearly since they began. But it's understood that the Taliban also promised to reduce their violence. In reality, they've stepped up their attacks against security forces across the country, and they're believed to be behind a series of unclaimed murders, most recently of an Afghan journalist in Helmand.

INSKEEP: Wow. Helmand, of course, one of the provinces where there's been the heaviest fighting over many years. What are ordinary Afghans telling you about this expected announcement from the U.S.?

HADID: It reaches across Afghanistan, but educated urban Afghans, especially women, do worry the withdrawal will allow the Taliban to seize power and that their rights might just be swept away. But others are also tired, like Marzia Khawari. She is an unemployed nurse in the western city of Herat. And have a listen to what she says here.

MARZIA KHAWARI: (Speaking Dari).

HADID: So she's speaking there in Dari, and she's saying, look, the fighting is getting worse, so maybe it doesn't matter if they stay or go - fatigue.

INSKEEP: OK. So we have Afghan forces who are in the middle of these peace negotiations, and yet the war goes on. The U.S. troops are not completely leaving, but a lot of them are on their way out. Can Afghan security forces protect themselves?

HADID: Yeah. I mean, at this point, Afghans are overwhelmingly leading the fight against the Taliban, but they do still rely on U.S. airstrikes to help repel insurgents. So Faisal, that adviser I spoke to, says as long as those continue, they should be fine. But mostly, Afghans seem to be waiting for Biden. They hope his administration will hold the Taliban to tougher conditions in exchange for that withdrawal of foreign forces, if any are left.

INSKEEP: NPR's Diaa Hadid is in Islamabad, Pakistan. Thanks so much.

HADID: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF KIASMOS' "DRAWN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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