Top general says 'disruption to status quo' needed in Afghanistan

Top general says 'disruption to status quo' needed in Afghanistan
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The top U.S. general on Wednesday endorsed an approach to Afghanistan that would result in a “disruption to the status quo” as the Trump administration works to finalize a peace deal with the Taliban.

“I believe that what is needed is some type of disruption to the status quo,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford said. “I think an agreement that can initiate inter-Afghan dialogue and potentially leading to a reduction of violence associated with the insurgency is something that’s worth trying.”

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Dunford was speaking alongside Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperTalks stall on defense costs with South Korea Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Stopgap spending bill includes military pay raise | Schumer presses Pentagon to protect impeachment witnesses | US ends civil-nuclear waiver in Iran The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Johnson & Johnson — Trump floats testifying in impeachment hearing MORE at the first on-camera Pentagon briefing in a year.

When asked about President TrumpDonald John TrumpDem senator says Zelensky was 'feeling the pressure' to probe Bidens 2020 Dems slam Trump decision on West Bank settlements Trump calls latest impeachment hearings 'a great day for Republicans' MORE’s recent comments that he could win the war in Afghanistan in a week but that doing so would mean killing millions of Afghans, Esper said the United States reserves “the right to keep all options on the table,” while stressing the diplomatic effort.

The Trump administration’s special envoy for Afghan peace talks, Zalmay Khalilzad, is in Qatar for a ninth round of talks with the Taliban. The Taliban said Wednesday that a deal was close.

The broad outlines of the deal would see U.S. troops withdraw from Afghanistan in exchange for Taliban assurances not to allow the country to become a launching pad for terrorist attacks against the United States.

Finalization of the deal has so far been elusive because of the Taliban’s refusal to participate in talks with the Afghan government, a key U.S. demand. The Taliban considers the U.S.-backed government illegitimate.

The United States has about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan to train, advise and assist Afghan troops in their fight against the Taliban, in addition to conducting counterterrorism missions against groups like ISIS and al Qaeda.

Dunford, when pressed Wednesday about the fate of the counterterrorism presence in a deal with the Taliban, said it was “premature” to discuss future U.S. force posture.

“I’m not using the 'withdraw' word right now. I’m using — we’re going to make sure that Afghanistan is not a sanctuary,” he said.

He stressed that the counterterrorism force is “conditions-based,” but suggested a deal with the Taliban could lead to conditions that allow for a drawdown.

“We have tailored our counterterrorism presence in Afghanistan to reflect the operational environment. The operational environment would clearly change in the wake of a negotiation, but I think we’d have to make assessments,” Dunford said.

Afghan forces currently need U.S. military support to secure the country, Dunford added, but again suggested a deal could change that.

“Right now, it’s our judgment that the Afghans need support to deal with the level of violence that is associated with the insurgency today,” he said. “If an agreement happens in the future, if the security environment changes, then obviously our posture may adjust.”

The Afghan government, meanwhile, has complained it is being sidelined by the U.S. in the peace talks.

Asked to respond to such criticism, Dunford discussed a recent trip to Afghanistan where he met with several Afghan leaders to “make sure there is transparency in this negotiation.”

“I view any agreement that would be pending as something we are doing with, not to the Afghan people,” Dunford said.