U.S. President Donald Trump has decided to pull a significant number of troops from Afghanistan, U.S. media reported on Thursday, citing a defense official, a day after he announced a withdrawal from Syria.
Reports suggested as many as half of the 14,000 troops in the war-torn country could be leaving.
The surprise move stunned and dismayed foreign diplomats and officials in Kabul who are involved in an intensifying push to end the 17-year conflict with the Taliban.
On Wednesday, Trump rebuffed top advisers and decided to pull all U.S. troops out of Syria, a decision that contributed to U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis abruptly quitting on Thursday.
Mattis had argued for maintaining a strong U.S. military presence in Afghanistan to bolster diplomatic peace efforts. He resigned shortly after U.S. officials raised the possibility that Trump would order the drawdown.
Currently, the United States has about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan working either with a NATO mission to support Afghan forces or in separate counter-terrorism operations.
Trump made his decision Tuesday, the same time he told the Pentagon he wanted to pull all U.S. forces out of Syria.
The Pentagon declined to comment on Afghanistan.
A spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Haroon Chakhansuri, said Friday the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan would not affect security of the war-torn country, in the first official response to the news.
“If they withdraw from Afghanistan, it will not have a security impact because in the last four and half years, the Afghans have been in full control,” Chakhansuri said via social media.
NATO’s spokeswoman Oana Lungescu would not comment on the U.S. withdrawal, but she said NATO foreign ministers met as recently as this month to express “steadfast commitment to ensuring long-term security and stability in Afghanistan.”
“Our engagement is important to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for international terrorists who could threaten us at home,” she said.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid would not comment on the troop withdrawal. But a senior Taliban commander welcomed the decision, AFP reported.
“We are more than happy, they realized the truth. We are expecting more good news,” the commander was quoted as saying.
U.S. peace envoy Zalmay 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.
The Taliban was toppled after a U.S.-led invasion in Afghanistan in 2001 in the wake of the September 11 attacks on American soil. The war is now America’s longest, with more than 2,400 U.S. military personnel killed there since the start of 2001, including 13 this year.