US Has ‘Options Open’ On Withdrawal From Afghanistan – Reports

The US might completely withdraw troops from Afghanistan by May 1, but other options are also not off the table just yet, Afghan broadcaster Tolo News reported on Sunday, quoting a letter sent by US State Secretary Antony Blinken to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

“I must also make clear to you Mr. President, that as our policy process continues in Washington, The United States has not ruled out any option. We are considering the full withdrawal of our forces by May 1st, as we consider other options,” Blinken wrote to Ghani, as quoted by Tolo.

The letter reportedly contained several proposals put forward by Blinken on how to accelerate the peace process in Afghanistan, including a revised deal for a 90-day reduction of violence and a UN-facilitated conference with international stakeholders, such as Russia, China, India, Iran, Pakistan and the United States.

Last February, the United States and the Taliban agreed to a peace deal that contained conditions for the launch of a reconciliation process between the radical movement and the Afghan government. Among other things, the Taliban committed to reducing violence, which both Kabul and Washington later claimed it failed to do.

Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin said last month that the withdrawal would proceed as scheduled and complete in May only if the Taliban implement the terms of the deal, namely reduce violence and cut ties with terrorist organizations.

A US-led NATO contingent has been present in Afghanistan since 2003 as part of a UN-mandated international coalition known as the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

In 2015, the expired ISAF was replaced with the Resolute Support Mission with a non-combat mandate to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces. The mission currently includes around 9,600 troops from 36 NATO and partner countries.