Wednesday, January 30, 2019

To Slow U.S. Exit, Afghan Leader Offers Trump a Cost Reduction - NYTimes

KABUL, Afghanistan — Unnerved by fears of a rushed American deal with Taliban insurgents, President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan sent a letter on Tuesday to President Trump offering him reduced costs for keeping United States troops in the country.

The letter, confirmed by three officials and described by one who had seen its contents, is among the strongest signs yet that Mr. Ghani is worried about the consequences of an abrupt American withdrawal from an intractable war that has lasted nearly two decades.

Mr. Ghani has made no secret of his concern about a hasty American exit by an increasingly impatient Mr. Trump, fearing it could unravel the fragile Afghan state and lead to a renaissance in power by the Taliban, which have been steadily gaining territory.

The Afghan leader’s anxiety has punctuated the contrast between the political backdrop in Afghanistan and the circumstances of the American pullout from the other conflict that arose after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — the American-led war in Iraq.

Iraqi leaders were by and large happy to see American forces leave. Mr. Ghani, on the other hand, frets about it, partially because the United States is the strongest ally sustaining him in power.

The Afghan leader wrote the letter to Mr. Trump just a few days after the most serious negotiations between American diplomats and Taliban representatives ended on what both sides considered an upbeat note in Qatar, 1,200 miles away.

The chief American diplomat, Zalmay Khalilzad, told The New York Times there had been an agreement on a “framework” for two key issues — that the Taliban would prevent the use of Afghan territory by terror groups like Al Qaeda against the United States, and that the Americans would agree to withdrawing their forces.

Frustrated Afghan officials, who played no role in the negotiations, said they nonetheless saw a confirmation of what many have feared over the past year or so — that the Trump administration, despite having signaled a long-term commitment, cares little for what an American withdrawal could mean for Afghanistan’s 35 million people.

The senior Afghan official who had seen Mr. Ghani’s letter, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the contents were private, said Mr. Ghani and his aides had long discussed how to deal with any possible change of plans by the Trump administration. Those discussions included cost savings and troop reductions and were held with the previous American commander, Gen. John W. Nicholson.

The official said the language of Mr. Ghani’s letter was broad — asking for teams from both sides to discuss details of where costs could be reduced, and how the troop levels could be brought down from the current 14,000 to a “more efficient level.”

The official said the possibilities they had envisioned could save as much as $2 billion a year for the United States, drawing from areas such as maintenance contracts, and reduce the level of American troops to as low as 3,000.

Mr. Ghani alluded to such savings during an appearance last week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in which he argued for caution in any American withdrawal.

“The United States as a sovereign power, as a global power, is entitled to leave,” he said. “But we need to get the departure right. Are the fundamental reasons that brought the United States to Afghanistan — are those objectives accomplished? The first issue is cost. We completely agree that the cost must come down, must become more efficient.” - Read More

To Slow U.S. Exit, Afghan Leader Offers Trump a Cost Reduction - The ...


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