President Donald Trump and his national security team had an hourlong, classified meeting on Afghanistan on Friday, just a day after a Afghan National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib directed criticism at the Trump administration for keeping the Afghan government in the dark about its negotiations with the Taliban.
The meeting at the Pentagon included US Vice President Mike Pence, Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, CIA Director Gina Haspel and Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton, among others.
The session was a classified briefing about Afghanistan, according to a White House official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the subject of the private briefing, according to the Associated Press.
The Pentagon has been developing plans to withdraw as many as half of the 14,000 troops still in Afghanistan. Patrick Shanahan, acting secretary of defense, said he has no orders to reduce the U.S. troop presence, although officials say that is at the top of the Taliban’s list of demands in exploratory peace negotiations.
U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad,l recently concluded a 13-day session with Taliban and briefed various leaders on coming back to DC.
Khalilzad said the two sides reached two “draft agreements” covering the withdrawal of U.S. troops and guarantees that Afghanistan would not revert to a haven for terrorists.
The two sides seem to be in agreement about the withdrawal of American forces, but divided over the timeline and whether a residual force would remain.
Taliban officials have told The Associated Press that the insurgents want a full withdrawal within three to five months, but that U.S. officials say it will take 18 months to two years.
Afghanistan’s national security adviser Hamdullah Mohib visited Washington on Thursday to publicly complain that the Trump administration has alienated the Afghan government, legitimized the militant network and is crafting a deal that will never lead to peace. His blunt remarks prompted a scolding from State Department officials.
NSA Mohib, on his visit to DC, also suggested that the negotiations conducted by Khalilzad, a veteran American diplomat who was born in Afghanistan, are clouded by Khalilzad’s political ambitions to lead his native country, but if the Afghan government is excluded from all talks and negotiations, the deal cannot lead to any substantial peace.