WASHINGTON: US secretary of state Mike Pompeo appeared to be backtracking from his statement about President Donald Trump ordering reduction of troops in Afghanistan before the 2020 elections, saying that there is “no deadline” for the withdrawal and the decision will be based on the situation on the ground.
Pompeo had on July 29 said that Trump has ordered to reduce the number of American troops in war-torn Afghanistan before the presidential elections in 2020.
“That’s my directive from the president of the United States,” Pompeo had said in response to a question.
Pompeo’s comments, that came amidst negotiations between the US and the Taliban, were widely reported in the American media.
However, the top diplomat travelling to the Asia-Pacific region, on Tuesday told journalists accompanying him that reporting on his remarks were not accurate.
“I saw the reporting on that. I wish reporters had been a little more careful in what they had said. They got it wrong. There’s no deadline for this,” Pompeo said in response to a question when asked for a clarification.
“Could you clarify the US’ game plan in Afghanistan? Are we looking for a total, complete withdrawal by 2020, or will there be some sort of residual advise-and-assist force?” he was asked.
During the presidential election campaign in 2016, Trump pledged to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan and end America’s longest war.
The Trump administration has intensified its efforts to seek a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan where the US has lost over 2,400 soldiers since late 2001, when it invaded the country after the 9/11 terror attacks.
US Special Envoy for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad is currently holding talks with the Taliban to work out an agreement for withdrawal of the US troops and participation of the rebel group in the Afghan government.
Pompeo said that President Trump has been very direct about his expectations that US will reduce its operational footprint on the ground in Afghanistan just as quickly as they can get there, consistent with his other mission set, which is to ensure that the US has an adequate risk reduction plan for making sure that there is no terror that’s conducted from Afghanistan as well.
“So we have a twin set of missions,” he said.
Khalilzad, he said, is engaged with the Afghan government, other elements of the Afghanistan leadership and as well as with the Taliban to try and deliver a peace and reconciliation plan that will permit the United States to conduct a conditions-based withdrawal from Afghanistan as quickly as they can execute it.
“So I saw the comments from yesterday. I hope they’re out not only before the next election but before we land today, right.
“Our mission set is to do this as quickly and in a responsible method as we can achieve, consistent with the work that Ambassador Khalilzad has been engaged in for the last six or seven months,” Pompeo said.
Noting that the US will do this with its partners in the region, Pompeo said all of the elements of ‘Resolute Support’ are fully briefed on what the US doing.
“We will have an orderly plan for how we’re going to maintain our counterterrorism posture in the region.
“There’s really not much news here other than as each day goes by, we’re getting closer to getting an understanding from all the parties in Afghanistan about how we would deliver this better outcome not only for the United States and the others who are – who have soldiers and sailors and airmen and marines on the ground and in the air, but for the Afghan people as well,” he said.
“That’s the mission the president has laid out and we’re working our way there. I hope in the next handful of weeks we’ll have significant progress we can announce,” Pompeo said.