The Taliban ‘s momentum in Afghanistan has been slowed and the country is increasingly ready for a political settlement to the conflict, according to a US Department of Defense report released Thursday night.
The semiannual “Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan” report, which covers events from Jun. 1 to Nov. 30, 2018, comes amid media reports that the United States government was planning to withdraw about half of its 14,000 troops from the war-torn South Asian country.
The report, among many reasons, cited “increased military pressure on the Taliban” and “international calls for peace” that appeared to have driven the insurgent group to negotiations.
“The introduction of additional advisors and enablers in 2018 stabilized the situation in Afghanistan, slowing the momentum of a Taliban march that had capitalized on US drawdowns between 2011 and 2016,” it said.
The report, however, acknowledged that “an array of challenges”, like Afghan political stability, security force capacity, and regional spoilers, remain.
But “the combination of military escalation and diplomatic initiative (has) made a favorable political settlement more likely than at any time in recent memory,” it said.
The report noted that the President Donald Trump administration’s special representative in charge of the talks for Afghan reconciliation, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilizad, had reinforced Washington’s diplomatic engagements with Afghanistan, neighboring states and interested parties in the region.
Taliban representatives have held preliminary talks with US authorities and the latest of such meetings was conducted in the United Arab Emirates on Monday and Tuesday.
A spokesperson for the militants, Zabihullah Mujahid, confirmed the UAE meeting, saying the talks revolved around the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan.
On Thursday, various US media outlets reported that the Trump administration had ordered planning to begin for the withdrawal 7,000 of the 14,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan.
According to the news reports, which cited multiple unnamed defense officials, the decision to begin an Afghan withdrawal was made on Tuesday when Trump decided to withdraw the US troops from Syria.
It comes as US Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, announced this resignation over disagreements with Trump, saying the president deserved a defense secretary whose “views are better aligned with” his.
Trump had promised during his election campaign to withdraw American troops from abroad.
The withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan is seen as a first step in fulfilling that promise, though many have warned that it could increase chaos in the country.
US troops in Afghanistan are currently engaged in training tasks of Afghan forces as well as counter-terrorism efforts against Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.