Chasing peace in the middle of war in Afghanistan

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President Donald Trump is considering withdrawing roughly half of the more than 14,000 US troops stationed in Afghanistan, senior administration officials say.

Mr. Trump announced Wednesday that he would pull all of the more than 2,000 American troops from Syria.

The US has about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan working either with a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation mission to support Afghan forces or in separate counter-terrorism operations.

Mr. Zahiri also dismissed the Taliban's denial over meeting Afghan officials, reminding this reporter of similar issues that were present while negotiating peace with Hizb-e-Islami a year ago.

Trump's surprise decision to withdraw soldiers from Syria contributed to the abrupt resignation of Pentagon chief Jim Mattis on Thursday over significant policy differences with the president.

President Trump's announcement was not only a shook for his own country's military establishment but also for concerned regional states which are heavily invested in the Afghan conflict.

Khalilzad, who has met with Taliban representatives several times in recent months, has expressed hopes for a peace deal before the Afghan presidential elections scheduled for April.

Late on Thursday, Mattis announced he would leave the office of Defense Secretary on February 28, 2019, writing in a resignation letter about the importance of US alliances and partnerships, issues that Mattis and Trump have clashed over in the past - including Afghanistan.

"There was little doubt that Ambassador Khalilzad was always working with limited time and a zeal of desperation to achieve something before the president pulled the plug", said Daniel Markey, senior research professor at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies.

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He asserted that Pakistan will continue to play whatever role it can play to support the Afghan peace process.

Pakistan was one of the countries which not only facilitated the latest round of direct talks but also participated in it. USA special representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, led US team in talks that included envoys from Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and a host country.

The Taliban are already stronger today than they have been since they were ousted in 2001, controlling or holding sway over almost half the country.

United States troops stormed into Afghanistan in November 2001 in an invasion triggered by the September 11 attacks.

The officials called America's withdrawal a defeat, comparing it to the United States evacuation from Vietnam and Russia's 1989 forced withdrawal from Afghanistan that capped a failed 10-year campaign. It was unclear which American troops might leave or whether North Atlantic Treaty Organisation has been informed.

Foreign observers and officials said Trump's move had handed the Taliban a major propaganda and tactical victory, without the militants having to make any concessions.

The Taliban are fighting to oust foreign forces and defeat the Western-backed Kabul government.

The US and Taliban are engaged in a dialogue for peace in war-torn Afghanistan. Could a withdrawal from Afghanistan be far behind?

Although U.S. troops have pulled back from active combat operations, Afghanistan's security forces rely heavily on U.S. air power against the Taliban and other insurgent groups, such as IS and Al-Qaeda affiliates.

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