US troop pullout from Afghanistan ahead of schedule
KABUL, May 27: The US military withdrawal from Afghanistan is considerably ahead of schedule, an official told AFP on Wednesday, as President Donald Trump reiterated calls for the Pentagon to bring troops home.
The developments came as questions loomed over the next phase of Afghanistan's long war, with the expiry of a three-day ceasefire and an anxious wait to see when violence might return.
Under a deal the US signed with the Taliban in February, the Pentagon was to bring troop levels down from about 12,000 to 8,600 by mid-July, before withdrawing all forces by May 2021.
But a senior US defence official said the troop number was already at about 7,500, as commanders look to accelerate the withdrawal because of fears over the coronavirus pandemic.
"The drawdown was accelerated due to COVID-19 precautions," the official told AFP, noting that the departure of anyone with underlying health concerns or over a certain age was being prioritised.
Trump on Tuesday told reporters the US force level was "down to 7,000-some-odd soldiers right now".
The next day he returned to a frequent complaint that America should not be acting as a "police force" in Afghanistan.
"After 19 years, it is time for them to police their own Country," Trump wrote on Twitter.
"Bring our soldiers back home but closely watch what is going on and strike with a thunder like never before, if necessary!" -AFP