WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday the U.S. military role in Afghanistan has basically turned into a “ridiculous” police force in a sign that he is open to a U.S. troop drawdown there after 18 years of war.
Trump was briefed on Friday by top national security aides on a peace plan being negotiated by U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad with leaders of the Afghanistan government and the Taliban.
“We’re having good discussions. We’ll see what happens. It’s 18 years. We’re not really fighting. We’re almost a police force over there. We’re not supposed to be a police force,” he said.
Some 14,000 U.S. troops remain engaged in America’s longest war, training and advising Afghan security forces and conducting counterinsurgency operations against militant groups such as al Qaeda and Islamic State’s local affiliate.
A pullout has raised fears within the U.S. military and among some lawmakers that Afghanistan could plunge into a new civil war that could see a return of Taliban rule and give al Qaeda and other militants a sanctuary in which to expand and plot new attacks on U.S. and allied targets.
Khalilzad was traveling on Tuesday to resume talks with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, “as part of an overall effort to facilitate a peace process that ends the conflict in Afghanistan,” the State Department said in a statement.
Khalilzad will consult with leaders of the Afghan government in Kabul and encourage negotiations between the two sides, it said.
Trump, inheriting a war begun by then-President George W. Bush in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, expressed a willingness to remove some of the U.S. troops there but said some are needed to make sure the United States has intelligence assets on the ground.
“We’re bringing some of our troops back but we have to have a presence,” he said.
He reiterated that he could end the war quickly but “I’m not looking to kill 10 million Afghans because that’s what would have to happen.”
“But it’s a war that’s been going on almost 19 years and frankly it’s ridiculous. But with that being said, it’s a dangerous place and we have to always keep an eye on it,” he said.
Trump said the Taliban would like to stop fighting the Americans but that it is not clear the Taliban can be trusted.
“The conversations are going well. But in the end, it will be about what’s delivered on the ground, whether that’s from the Afghan government, other Afghans that aren’t inside the Afghan government, the Taliban,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday in an interview with CNBC.
“The truth will be in the reality. What really happens on the ground? If we can reduce violence, we’ll create a space where we can withdraw not only American support but NATO forces that are there as well,” Pompeo said.
Islamic State militants, who battle government forces and the Taliban and have carried out some of the deadliest attacks in urban centers, will not be part of the deal between the United States and the Taliban.
Islamic State has claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on a wedding in Kabul on Saturday that killed 63 people and wounded 182.
Reporting by Steve Holland, Doina Chiacu, Humeyra Pamuk and Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Lisa Shumaker