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No troop withdrawal planned yet as Afghan peace plan advances

The Pentagon has been briefed on the potential peace agreement with the Taliban in Afghanistan, talks that could lead to the eventual withdrawal of U.S. forces, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said Monday.

Shanahan said he was encouraged by that tentative agreement, first reported by the New York Times, but he added that it was not far enough along that the Pentagon had received taskings to plan for any potential drawdown of troops. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who was in Washington with U.S. representative to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchinson, also told reporters it was premature to talk about a reduction in forces there.

“I think it is a bit too early to speculate," Stoltenberg said. "What we have to do now is to support the efforts to try to find a peaceful solution. We strongly support those efforts.”

U.S. envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad told the New York Times that the potential agreement would include guarantees from the Taliban to prevent captured territory from being used by terror organizations and would have to include a cease fire and an agreement by the Taliban to hold direct talks with the Afghan government. Those met conditions could result in the withdrawal of U.S. Forces from Afghanistan, Zalmay told the Times.

“Really the takeaway right now,” Shanahan said, is that “it’s encouraging, and we’ll let Secretary [Mike] Pompeo and the ambassador be the spokespersons for that.”

There are approximately 14,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The Trump administration has been considering withdrawing as many as half of those.

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