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Ex-US defense secretaries advise against Afghanistan withdrawal

By: The Kabul Times

KABUL: Two former US defense secretaries have both said they would advise President Joe Biden against withdrawing all US troops from Afghanistan.
This comes amid the Biden administration’s ongoing review of the US-Taliban agreement signed a year ago in Doha, which stipulates the withdrawal of all foreign troops from the country by May 1.
However, in an interview with Michael O’Hanlon from the Brookings Institution, former defense secretary Mark Esper said the withdrawal deal negotiated with the Taliban was always contingent on conditions to be met by the Taliban.
“We implemented our side of it in good faith, but it’s fair to say the Taliban have not,” Esper said, noting the Taliban have not delivered on any of their key promises, namely a reduction in violence, good faith negotiations with the Afghan government, and a full break with al-Qaeda.
Esper said he would have opposed Trump’s post-election order to reduce U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan to 2,500, which he says has effectively undercut any leverage the U.S. had over the Taliban.
“I made this clear when I was in the administration at the end, I thought we should hold it 4,500 until the conditions on the ground were met.”
Esper said Trump has put Biden in a tough situation and said: “We have to make sure that again, Afghanistan doesn’t become a safe haven for terrorism. And I say that as somebody who wants to get out of there as badly as anyone else.”
Meanwhile, speaking to the Washington Post, Robert Gates, who served under former president Barak Obama, said the “least bad option’ is for the U.S. to stay until the Taliban get the message that the U.S. won’t leave until they get serious about peace.
“My view is that I think the steps the president has taken in terms of hinting that we might not pull the rest of our troops out on the first of May is exactly right. I think that we do need to take into consideration the possibility of having a presence in Afghanistan at roughly the current level, or maybe even slightly more, along with our NATO allies.”
“We have about 2,500 troops there now,” Gates says, and they need to stay, he argues, “for an indefinite period of time, at a minimum until that presence forces the Taliban to realize that they can’t just take all the marbles once we leave.”

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