Taliban spokesman: I did not endorse Trump

Denial follows CBS News report, enthusiastic response to presidential tweet about US troops being "home by Christmas."

Members of a Taliban delegation leave after peace talks with Afghan senior politicians in Moscow, May 30, 2019 (photo credit: EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA/REUTERS)
Members of a Taliban delegation leave after peace talks with Afghan senior politicians in Moscow, May 30, 2019
Zabiullah Mujahid, chief spokesman for the Taliban, denies he has expressed support for US President Donald Trump in the upcoming US election.
“It is crystal clear that the… Taliban made a peace agreement with the US administration, not with any specific person, so whoever will be in power in the US, we are bound to abide by that agreement,” Mujahid told The Media Line.
He was responding to a weekend report by CBS News in which the US broadcaster quoted him as having stated during a telephone interview: "We hope he [Trump] will win the election and wind up [the] US military presence in Afghanistan."
Zabiullah further told The Media Line: “Trump has taken significant steps to ensure the safe repatriation of US troops from Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, etc., so the American people can reelect him – but it is up to the American people to decide who will be best for them.”
The CBS News report followed a tweet last week by Trump in which the president said: “We should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas!”
Zabiullah responded warmly to that remark.
“We consider it a positive step for the implementation of the agreement between the US and Taliban in Doha,” he said in a statement, referring to a late-February accord calling for a reduction in violence and the initiation of intra-Afghan talks that would enable the withdrawal of American troops from the country.
“The Taliban are also committed to abiding by the contents of the peace agreement and hope for good and positive relations with all countries, including the United States,” he added.
Trump’s “Christmas” comment created no small amount of uncertainty. It came just hours after Robert O’Brien, his national security adviser, said Washington would reduce its forces in Afghanistan “from 5,000 to 2,500 by early 2021,” adding that the Afghans themselves “are going to have to work out an accord, a peace agreement. It’s going to be slow progress, it’s going to be hard progress….”
Among those left with an unsettled feeling was Haleema Sultani, a former Afghani parliamentarian.
“We are not happy,” Sultani told The Media Line.
“The majority of Afghanis very well know about the incompetency of Afghan security forces, particularly in the presence of ISIS and some other militant groups along with Taliban fighters,” she said.
“No doubt, the Doha peace agreement was mainly focused on a [US] troop withdrawal plan, but it does not bar the Taliban from fighting against Afghan security forces, and as a result… Afghan nationals are still bleeding,” she stated.
On numerous occasions, Trump has called for US troops to return home from foreign battlefields, saying that Americans are tired of endless wars.
Michael Kugelman, deputy director and senior associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Washington, believes no one should read “too much” into Trump's comment.
“To me, it appears to be a political a statement more than a declaration of policy,” he told The Media Line.
“Trump's reelection prospects are dimming and he's looking for quick ways to energize his base,” Kugelman continued, adding that he was not at all sure the administration would want to bring home all remaining troops by Christmas.
“There's a strong desire – a bipartisan one, in fact – to maintain a small counterterrorism force in Afghanistan,” he explained.
Kugelman said the presidential tweet would surely “galvanize the Taliban, which can claim a propaganda victory and point to the fact that the US president is agreeing with the Taliban's objective of getting all forces out of the country as soon as possible.”
Laurel Miller, director of the Asia Program at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, said in a tweet of her own that Trump’s Twitter message “kneecaps US envoys and other officials by seriously undermining their claims that any further troop reductions would be ‘conditional’. Or, Trump’s statement suggests that the only condition that concerns him is what he thinks sounds good on the eve of election.”
Adil Farouq, an Islamabad-based defense analyst and former coordinator for the International Security Assistance Force, established by the UN Security Council to help train Afghani forces and rebuild government institutions, says Trump’s remarks point to a policy tug of war in the US.
“The confusion created by President Trump's tweet indicates the ongoing power tussle between the White House and the rest of the US [defense and foreign policy] establishment, which includes the Pentagon, CIA and the State Department,” he told The Media Line.
“It would be in the US national interest to withdraw from Afghanistan on the successful completion of the ongoing Afghan peace process. Otherwise, the ghosts from Kabul will come back to haunt them, like the 9/11 attacks – the US made the mistake to withdraw hastily at the end of the Cold War, for which US citizens paid the heaviest price….” Farouq added.
“It was predicted that 2020 will be a year of tactical civil war in Afghanistan,” he continued. “The result of this war will decide the fate of the ruler in post-US-withdrawal Kabul.”
Tahera Rehmani, a Kabul-based writer and political analyst, called Trump’s Christmas comment “political drama” aimed at his opponents.
“[The] Afghan Taliban are not ready to reduce the violence against the regime. They are fighting to get rid of [the] Ashraf Ghani-led government,” Rehmani told The Media Line.
“Intra-Afghan talks have not yet proved fruitful, so leaving Afghanistan in this situation is not a logical decision,” she continued. “Leaving Afghanistan just to boost [Trump’s] election campaign will ultimately damage the Afghan security forces who are [still] on the battlefields against various militant groups.”
Rahim Ullah Adil, an English-language lecturer based in Afghanistan’s Khost Province, goes a step further in saying he believes the US will “never” fully withdraw its troops from the country.
“The United States can never afford a complete military withdrawal from Afghanistan,” Adil told The Media Line.
“US policymakers have seen the bitter effects of the post-Cold War era, when the United States completely ignored Afghanistan,” he said. “The whole world had to suffer the dire consequences.”
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