- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Washington’s campaign against terror groups in Afghanistan will continue unabated despite Taliban demands for a full U.S. withdrawal from the country, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford said Wednesday.

The Pentagon’s top uniformed officer, whose tenure ends later this year, said America’s continued military presence in the country is not up for debate, despite during a sharp escalation of both U.S. and Russian peace talks seeking a political settlement with the Islamist Taliban forces.

“No one has suggested the U.S. is going to leave Afghanistan until our counterterrorism interests are addressed. … That is nonnegotiable,” Gen. Dunford said during a briefing at the Washington-based think tank Brookings Institute.

The U.S. and its allies are worried about Islamic State and other terror groups that have set up inside Afghanistan, even as the Taliban and the U.S.-backed government in Kabul enter the 18th year of inconclusive fighting.

U.S. negotiators, led by veteran Zalmay Khalilzad, President Trump’s special envoy to the Afghan peace talks, have reportedly agreed to a draft timeline for the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from the country. In response, the Taliban have agreed to cut all ties with groups like al Qaeda and the Islamic State.



Top Taliban leaders have long sought the full withdrawal of all 14,000 remaining American troops from the country and have made the troop pullout requirement a main pillar of their negotiation strategy with Mr. Khalilzad’s team.

U.S. and NATO forces officially ended combat operations in the country in December 2014.

The White House in March reportedly proposed a total U.S. troop withdrawal by 2022 or 2024, falling in line with demands by Mr. Trump to begin cycling out half of all troops — 7,000 in all — within the next year. Taliban negotiators rejected that plan at the time, demanding Washington withdraw its 17,000 troops by next year.

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