By Ayaz Gul
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Saturday that American soldiers have suffered no deaths in Afghanistan in almost a year, citing the Trump administration’s initiative to promote peace in the conflict-torn nation.
Washington in February concluded an agreement with the Taliban insurgency to close the 19-year-old Afghan war, the longest in American history. The historic understanding started a phased withdrawal of American troops from the South Asian nation.
The deal also opened first direct peace talks between the Taliban and the U.S.-backed Afghan government in September to negotiate a political power-sharing understanding to permanently end the war.
U.S. officials, however, have acknowledged a recent spike in fighting between Afghan security forces and Taliban insurgents that threatens the peace process. They’ve urged both Afghan adversaries to reduce hostilities and move quickly toward a negotiated settlement.
“No U.S. servicemen have been killed in Afghanistan in almost a year, and Afghans are finally discussing peace and reconciliation among themselves. Such incredible progress,” Pompeo said in a series of tweets that came one day after several social media posts boasting of American “swagger” during his diplomatic tenure.
Pompeo’s latter tweets drew criticism from Democratic National Committee regional chair Lindy Li, who was an outreach adviser for President-elect Joe Biden’s election campaign, for using his official State Department Twitter account to “soft-launch his 2024 presidential campaign.”
On Saturday, Pompeo, who hasn’t publicly responded to the criticism, also defended the withdrawal of thousands of U.S. soldiers from the country under the deal with the Taliban.
“Every administration since Bush 43 [President George W. Bush] wanted to draw down U.S. troops and forge peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government. We did it. Don’t just take my word for it,” asserted the chief U.S. diplomat.
The United States had fewer than 13,000 troops in Afghanistan at the start of 2020. But that number has been significantly reduced since signing the deal with the Taliban, and there will be around 2,500 U.S. forces left in Afghanistan by the middle of this month.
Pompeo insisted, however, the troop reduction would not impact U.S. counterterrorism efforts in the region.
He tweeted that the U.S. mission in Afghanistan was to eliminate al-Qaida and threats to the American homeland. “Don’t need 10s of 1,000s of U.S. troops on the ground to do that. We have partners: brave Afghans, @NATO forces. We also have the ability to project power from afar.”
The U.S.-Taliban deal requires all American and NATO troops to leave the country by this May.
In return, the insurgent group has pledged to fight international terrorist groups on Afghan soil and sever ties with the al-Qaida terror network. The Taliban have also committed to finding a political settlement to the war through negotiations with rival Afghan groups.
The so-called intra-Afghan negotiations are set to restart Tuesday in Doha, Qatar, after a break of three weeks. The two Afghan warring sides paused the dialogue on December 14 for internal deliberations.
The stalemated Afghan conflict has killed tens of thousands of people, including combatants and Afghan civilians. It has cost the U.S. the lives of around 2,500 military personnel and nearly $1 trillion.