- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 10, 2020

The Pentagon will withdraw a third of its 13,000 combat troops in Afghanistan by the summer, the top U.S. general commanding Middle East operations said Tuesday, but the removal of the remainder of the force is in serious question amid ongoing violence by the insurgent Taliban movement.

Speaking to the House Armed Services Committee, Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, said the military is following through on its part of a landmark U.S.-Taliban peace agreement to reduce the number of American troops in the country, but he has “no confidence” in the Taliban’s willingness to pursue a peace process with the U.S.-backed Afghan government in Kabul.

“We’re going to go to 8,600 by the summer. Conditions on the ground will dictate if we go below that,” Gen. McKenzie said.

“If conditions on the ground are not permissive, my advice would be to not continue that reduction, that would not be my decision, that would be my advice,” he continued.

American troops began departures from Afghanistan on Monday as part of the U.S.-Taliban deal reached in Doha on Feb. 29., which in part promises to bring the number of troops stationed in the country down from roughly 13,000.

The landmark agreement, that marked the beginning of the end of America’s longest war, called for a comprehensive nationwide cease-fire to be negotiated through the impending intra-Afghan talks, which were slated to begin on Tuesday in Oslo, Norway.

But ongoing violence has thrown the highly anticipated dialogue into question as officials fear the Taliban and other terrorist organizations may seek to undermine the diplomatic process.

Gen. McKenzie explained that Taliban forces have continued carrying out attacks that are “relatively low in scale” and not directed against coalition forces or major urban centers.

“But those attacks are occurring, and they’re not consistent with a movement toward a negotiated settlement, and they are not consistent with the undertaking they made,” the four-star general said. “The Taliban need to keep their part of the bargain.”

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