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GOP lawmakers fret over Afghanistan drawdown plans

GOP lawmakers fret over Afghanistan drawdown plans

WASHINGTON ― With talk of a U.S. troop drawdown in Afghanistan on the horizon, some Republican lawmakers are cautioning the Trump administration against pulling out too many troops, too quickly.

The comments came as a recently announced truce agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban envisions the phased withdrawal of U.S. forces over 18 months, on a path to the total withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. The initial plan calls for an end to attacks for seven days and then the signing of a U.S.-Taliban peace deal before all-Afghan peace talks would begin.

Administration officials have expressed optimism about the plan, but on the heels of meeting with Afghan President Ashaf Ghani at the Munich Security Conference last weekend, the Republicans raised concerns about how the process will work.

To Texas Rep. Mac Thornberry, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee and a skeptic of past Trump administration drawdown plans, the devil will be in the details.

“Are they real conditions, are you going to enforce them, or is it just window covering for a withdrawal,” he said. “I’ll say our military and the Afghan military has brought the Taliban to the table, but will they fundamentally change their ways? Can you really have Afghans in a peaceful society? I’m skeptical.”

U.S. officials have not publicly spelled out their timetable for an initial drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but the expectation is that a reduction from the current total of about 12,000 to approximately 8,600 will begin after the signing of a U.S.-Taliban deal. The initial reduction is likely to stretch out over a period of weeks or months, and a conditions-based withdrawal to zero troops could follow.

“If all sides hold up, meet their obligations under that reduction of violence, then we’ll start talking about the next part and whether to move forward,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters in Munich.

As U.S. officials were mum about those conditions, some Republicans cautioned against accepting a bad deal.