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Senate Armed Services chair expects 'some extension' of troops in Afghanistan

Senate Armed Services chair expects 'some extension' of troops in Afghanistan
© Greg Nash

The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said Wednesday he expects “some extension” of the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan beyond May, when a deal with the Taliban calls for a full U.S. withdrawal.

“In the short run … I would expect some extension,” Sen. Jack ReedJack ReedOvernight Defense: Biden nominating first female Army secretary | Israel gets tough on Iran amid nuclear talks | Army's top enlisted soldier 'very proud' of officer pepper sprayed by police On The Money: CDC extends coronavirus eviction ban through June 30 | Biden to detail infrastructure proposal Wednesday | US won't quickly lift Trump tariffs on China Senate panel ties on embattled Pentagon nominee MORE (D-R.I.) told reporters Wednesday. “Even operationally, I think the military would make the case they need more time, even if they're coming out.”

Under a deal with the Taliban negotiated by the Trump administration, all U.S. troops are supposed to withdraw from Afghanistan by May 1 if the insurgents uphold certain counterterrorism commitments.

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U.S. military officials say the Taliban hasn't upheld its end of the deal, though former President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump: McConnell 'helpless' to stop Biden from packing court Romney on NRSC awarding Trump: Not 'my preference' McConnell sidesteps Trump calling him 'dumb son of a b----' MORE continued to draw down, leaving just 2,500 troops there by the time he left office.

With the deadline fast approaching, the Biden administration has said it is reviewing the agreement and has yet to make a decision about whether to withdraw by May, but Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinOvernight Defense: Biden nominating first female Army secretary | Israel gets tough on Iran amid nuclear talks | Army's top enlisted soldier 'very proud' of officer pepper sprayed by police Israel gets tough with Iran as Biden signals shift from Trump Biden to nominate first female Army secretary MORE appeared to signal last week it is leaning toward staying.

“The violence must decrease now,” Austin told reporters Friday.

“I told our allies that no matter what the outcome of our review, the United States will not undertake a hasty or disorderly withdrawal from Afghanistan that puts their forces or the alliance's reputation at risk,” Austin added at the news conference that took place after his first NATO ministerial.

On Wednesday, Reed called Afghanistan “one of the most challenging issues that the president is facing at the moment.”

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Reed walked through the three options Biden is facing: withdraw by May despite the Taliban’s lack of adherence to the deal; negotiate or announce a short extension of the withdrawal to spur talks between the Taliban and Afghan government that have stalled; or “simply saying we have to maintain our presence until the most favorable conditions are met.”

“All through this is the primary issue that we face, and that issue is, from our perspective, is the counterterrorism. We've got to be able to assure the world and the American public that Afghanistan will not be a source of planning — plotting to project terrorist attacks around the globe,” Reed said.

While the Rhode Island Democrat expressed skepticism the U.S. military could accomplish its counterterrorism goals “without some presence there,” he added that he thinks the intelligence community and Biden are looking “very seriously” about whether the counterterrorism mission can be accomplished with assets outside of Afghanistan.

“That might be feasible. So that would cover the first major objective, the reason we went in in 2001 and the most significant aspect to the United States,” Reed said. “But it does leave the Afghan government up in the air because their ability to maintain themselves has been a function of our presence and our significant financial support.”