U.S. President Donald Trump says he wants all U.S. troops to leave Afghanistan by December 25, which would be sooner than he previously proposed and a speedier withdrawal than his national-security adviser outlined in a speech earlier on October 7.
"We should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas!" Trump tweeted.
Trump's message comes four weeks before the U.S. presidential election and as he seeks to keep his 2016 election promise to bring "endless wars" to a close. The U.S. military engagement in Afghanistan began 19 years ago after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and has become America's longest war.
Abdullah Abdullah, the head of Afghanistan's High Council for National Reconciliation, a body that oversees the peace talks with the Taliban, warned that a premature withdrawal would have negative consequences for his country.
"It will happen one day, of course, and Afghanistan should be able to stand on its own feet, but if it is premature, it will have its consequences," Abdullah said at an event at a think tank in New Delhi, according to the dpa news agency.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the groups welcomed Trump’s announcement as a "positive step for the implementation of the agreement" signed by the United States and the militant group in February, which provides for a gradual withdrawal of all NATO forces from Afghanistan.
The Western military alliance, which went into Afghanistan following the 2001 U.S.-led invasion to topple the Taliban, reiterated its longstanding position that it will end its mission in Afghanistan only when conditions on the ground allow for it to happen.
"We decided to go into Afghanistan together, we will make decisions on future adjustments together, and when the time is right, we will leave together," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said at a news conference.
Just hours before Trump's tweet, U.S. national-security adviser Robert O'Brien said the United States will reduce the number of troops it has in Afghanistan to 2,500 by early next year.
The United States already has announced the number of troops would be down to about 4,000 by next month, but O'Brien's comments offered greater detail about the overall pace and scope of the drawdown.
"When President Trump took office, there were over 10,000 American troops in Afghanistan. As of today there are under 5,000 and that will go to 2,500 by early next year," O'Brien said, speaking in Nevada.
The Republican president is currently trailing challenger Joe Biden, a Democrat and the former vice president, in preelection polls.
Washington has been moving ahead incrementally with the drawdown, which is linked to intra-Afghan negotiations that are under way in Qatar.
Even though delays have plagued the start of negotiations, Washington began withdrawing some of its troops after signing the deal with the Taliban in Qatar on February 29.
Under the deal foreign forces will leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban.
A cease-fire is a top priority for the Afghan officials and Western diplomats who are facilitating the talks in Qatar.
"Ultimately, the Afghans themselves are going to have to work out an accord, a peace agreement," O'Brien said. "It's going to be slow progress, it's going to be hard progress, but we think it's a necessary step. We think Americans need to come home."
Negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban are aimed at the warring sides agreeing to a reduction of violence and a possible power-sharing agreement.
So far there has been no progress, while violence continues. Scores of Afghan soldiers and Taliban fighters have been killed in clashes and suicide attacks have left dozens of civilians dead in recent weeks.