American troops have reportedly begun their initial troop withdrawal as part of the US-Taliban peace agreement, with hundreds of soldiers leaving the country on Monday with no plans for replacements.
Speaking to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity, a US official confirmed the beginning steps of the withdrawal process have begun, with plans to drop the number of US troops in the country from 13,000 to 8,600.
According to the signed peace agreement, the withdrawal process for US troops had to begin 10 days within the signing of the agreement, which took place on February 29. Defense Secretary Mark Esper approved the withdrawal on March 2. Once troop levels hit 8,600, the conditions in the country will be reassessed before further troops are pulled.
The peace agreement was signed last month by US peace envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad and one of the Taliban’s senior leaders, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, in Qatar’s capital Doha.
Troops are to be pulled over the course of 135 days from five bases, and the remaining soldiers within 14 months should the country remain stable enough to not need US presence. The pact also promised lifting sanctions on Taliban members by August.
Although the group’s leader Hibatullah Akhundzada ordered his fighters to follow the rules of the agreement, they did not follow orders and continued attacks on Afghan forces. US troops responded with strikes.
Another aspect of the deal that may be jeopardized is the promised release of 5,000 imprisoned Taliban fighters. President Ashraf Ghani has said he will only release the men if he gets “an executive guarantee so that these people will not return to violence.”
Under the agreement, the prisoners are to be released by March 10.