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Trump's team has concerns about the Taliban in Afghanistan: US officials



By Jonathan Landay and Steve Holland

FILE PHOTO: US Ambassador for Peace in Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad speaks during a debate at TV station Tolo in Kabul, Afghanistan, on April 28, 201

9. REUTERS / Omar Sobhani / File Photo [WASHINGTON(Reuters)-WhilethenegotiatorsareworkingtoconcludeanagreementwiththeTalibantowithdrawUStroopsfromAfghanistansomeofficialsandlegislatorsoftheTrumpadministrationhaveexpressedconcernthatthiswillunderminetheabilityoftheUnitedStatesTowardoffattacksfromthereUSofficialssaid

Their concerns collide with the impatience of US President Donald Trump to reach an agreement to withdraw 14,000 troops and end the longest American war that will allow him to win a foreign policy victory in the 2020 election campaign.

On Thursday Trump seemed to reflect some of his aides' caution and told Fox News Radio that US troops here would initially be reduced to 8,600, and "then we make a decision about what happens."

Zalmay Khalilzad, a US-born US diplomat, has led nine rounds of talks with Taliban leaders to end a conflict triggered by al-Qaida's attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, ruled Afghanistan ,

In return for the defeat in the US, the Taliban would abandon relations with al-Qaeda and guarantee that Afghanistan would not be used to conspire against operations against the United States or its allies. They would also open talks about political agreement with the Afghan government, the opposition parties and civil society.

US. Officials say a US withdrawal would be "conditional" and stop if the Taliban reject the agreement.

However, some US officials, commanders and legislators do not trust the Taliban and its elite unit, the Haqqani network, to break Al Qaeda, nor do they believe they can prevent their allies from planning attacks US officials and regional experts.

"We can not only wish for these wars," said Rep. Michael Waltz, a former Green Beret officer who commanded the US Special Forces in Afghanistan. "They will follow us home."

"Even if you believe that the Taliban refuse Al Qaeda safe haven, I do not even see how they are capable," said Waltz, a member of the Force Committee.

A US State Department spokeswoman said the United States does not trust the Taliban.

"We are well aware of the history of the Taliban, including the Haqqani network and its complicated history with Al-Qaeda, so any agreement reached when one is achieved will be so closely monitored and verified," she said. "The agreement we work on is not based on trust."

SECRECY

Among the disquieting factors for US officials is the secrecy with which details of the negotiations were held, and the fact that they were not negotiating with each other, the US authorities concerned and the uncertainty as to whether Trump himself was the one proposed agreement.

On Walzer, other lawmakers and some US officials are burdened with the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq in 2011. In 2014, the militant group of the Islamic State seized parts of Iraq and Syria and forced US troops to redistribute.

Critics of the Afghanistan talks included Trump's national security adviser John Bolton.

Bolton was not initially invited to a meeting on August 16 at Trump's New Jersey Golf Club, where the president was briefed on Khalilzad's negotiations, sources Reuters said.

The reigning White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, then invited Bolton because his expulsion was considered extremely uncommon and because Trump likes to hear a wide range of voices, a source said.

The secrecy of the negotiations has prompted congressional committees to end US Department of State plans to halve the number of US Embassy staff in Kabul, a congressional assistant said.

US. Officials and legislators also fear that the US-backed Afghan security forces, with falling troop numbers, will be under greater pressure to contain the local subsidiary of the Islamic State, the Islamic State of Khorasan (ISIS-K). The subsidiary gains control of more territories as its ranks grow with irreconcilable Taliban fighters, US officials and experts said.

The Pentagon warned in a June report that, even if an agreement is reached, the Islamic State and the Taliban would continue to be "a significant threat".

"Many people are very nervous about this," said a former Pentagon official who asked for anonymity. "US intelligence agencies point to a strong terrorist presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan and a high risk of a significant reduction in the US presence."

The former official said Al-Qaeda has embedded his staff in Taliban units Married to Taliban families, "It would be awesome to see the Taliban suddenly throwing an important ally under the bus."

FILE PHOTO: Michael Waltz reports his leadership of a military force and their search for missing soldiers Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl to a subcommittee on foreign affairs in the Middle East and North Africa on the exchange of prisoners for Bergdahl on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 18, 2014. REUTERS / Larry Downing / File Photo

US officials say that The agreement would provide for monitoring and review of Taliban compliance, most likely by the CIA and Trump on Thursday The United States would maintain a "high intelligence" presence in Afghanistan as the troops retreat.

The CIA, however, relies mainly on US forces, and as their numbers decline, US intelligence would have to focus on fewer bases, limiting their ability to detect threats and forcing them to become more dependent on proxy militants Hardiness has increased unpopular, experts said.

"It's risky and challenging, but not impossible," said a former senior intelligence official who asked for anonymity. "The question is, how much will you miss if you are heavy in Kabul and not so much in provinces controlled by the Taliban, ISIS and al Qaeda?"

coverage by Jonathan Landay and Steve Holland; Additional coverage by Idrees Ali; Edited by Mary Milliken and Grant McCool

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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