Top general: 'Political conditions' in Afghanistan don't merit withdrawal yet

Top general: 'Political conditions' in Afghanistan don't merit withdrawal yet
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"Political conditions" in Afghanistan do not merit a U.S. military withdrawal right now, the top U.S. general in the region said Thursday.

“The political conditions, where we are in the reconciliation right now, don’t merit that,” Central Command chief Gen. Joseph Votel told the House Armed Services Committee.

Votel’s testimony to the committee comes as the Trump administration’s special envoy for Afghanistan negotiations, Zalmay Khalilzad, has been ramping up efforts to reach a peace deal with the Taliban in the 18-year-old war.

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As part of that, the Pentagon has reportedly floated a plan that would see all U.S. troops leave Afghanistan in the next three to five years. The Taliban, though, has reportedly rejected the proposal, demanding all foreign forces leave Afghanistan within a year.

Right now, there are about 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan with a dual mission of training, advising and assisting Afghan troops in their fight against the Taliban and conducting counterterrorism missions against groups such as the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

Under the reported American proposal, the United States would withdraw roughly half of its 14,000 troops in the next few months, and the remaining troops would focus on the counterterrorism mission. The train-advise-assist mission would fall to the European and Australian troops in Afghanistan.

On Thursday, Votel stressed that he has not received any orders to withdraw from Afghanistan.

“We’ve not been directed to withdraw, and there are no orders to withdraw anything,” he said.

Votel indicated Afghan forces are still not to ready fight the insurgents on their own, should the United States withdraw prior to a peace deal between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

“My assessment is the Afghan forces are dependent upon the coalition support that we provide to them,” Votel said.

Lawmakers from both parties expressed deep skepticism at the prospect for success in negotiating peace with the Taliban, with several pointing out that the Afghan government has yet to be brought into the talks.

Votel, though, expressed optimism about progress being made, citing a three-day cease-fire last year and Pakistan becoming “more helpful.”

“In my view, we have come further in the last six months than we have at anytime in the last 18 years,” he said. "It is a difficult problem. We are still at the front end of this. I acknowledge that, and we have a ways to go.”