U.S. forces in Afghanistan are doing their best to keep to an agreement to reduce violence, their commander told the BBC in a segment that aired Wednesday, including opting not to go on the offensive in some cases.
Troops are reining it in, Army Gen. Scott Miller said, in the interest of marshaling a peace agreement along, despite the Taliban’s persistent attacks on Afghan troops.
“We’ve shown a great deal of restraint because we’re trying to make this peace process work,” Miller said. “At the same time, we’ll defend our forces.”
Technically, the U.S. and Taliban agreed earlier this year to stop specifically targeting each other, and no U.S. troops have been killed in Taliban attacks since February.
What goes on between the Taliban and Afghan security forces is another matter, and critics have pointed out that as the U.S. reduces its troop presence in the country ― and the president proclaims that everyone could be home by Christmas ― Afghanistan remains as unstable as ever.
“The violence is too high,” Miller said. “What we’ve said all along is that all sides need to bring it down.”
There have been some positive sides this year, including a week-long ceasefire in late February and around the Eid holidays later in the year.
“But when we get most of it down, all of the sudden you have some flexibility to get some things done in the peace process,” Miller said.
Last year, the Trump administration set about 8,000 troops as its benchmark to remain in Afghanistan after a peace deal, but that number wound down to about 4,000 this year.
“We’re down to 4,000 troops in Afghanistan," President Donald Trump said Oct. 8 in an interview with Fox Business Channel. “I’ll have them home by the end of the year. They’re coming home, you know, as we speak. Nineteen years is enough. They’re acting as policemen, OK? They’re not acting as troops.”
A best-case scenario timeline, per the peace talks in Qatar, would have had troops out of the country later in spring 2021.
Despite Trump’s assertions, every single U.S. military leader has stressed that a full withdrawal from the country is based on conditions, and one of those is a long-term reduction in violence from the Taliban.
“If the violence goes up, it’s going to make it very, very difficult to come to any solution in Doha, which is exactly what this country needs," Miller said.
Asked whether he believes the Afghan national army and national police are ready to keep the peace on their own after a U.S. withdrawal, Miller deflected.
“The Afghan forces have to be ready. So it’s not a question of if they’re ready ― they have to be ready,” he said. “The commitment I see from them is they understand that they are the security forces that must secure the Afghan people.”
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.