US President Donald Trump said on Tuesday his country’s military role in Afghanistan has turned into a “ridiculous” police force, signalling he is open to drawing down the American presence there after 18 years of war.
Mr Trump was briefed on Friday by top national security aides on a peace plan being negotiated by US 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,” he said.
“We’re almost a police force over there. We’re not supposed to be a police force.”
About 14,000 US 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 ISIS’s local affiliate.
Discussions around a pullout have raised fears within the US military and among some politicians that Afghanistan could plunge into a new civil war that could lead to a return of Taliban rule and give Al Qaeda and other militants a sanctuary in which to expand and plot new attacks on American and allied targets.
Mr Khalilzad was travelling 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.
He will consult leaders of the Afghan government in Kabul and encourage negotiations between the two sides, it said.
Mr Trump expressed a willingness to remove some of the US troops from Afghanistan but said some need to stay to ensure Washington has intelligence assets on the ground.
“We’re bringing some of our troops back but we have to have a presence,” he said.
Mr Trump reiterated that he could end the war quickly. But he said: “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.
Mr Trump said the Taliban would like to stop fighting the Americans but it was not clear the Taliban could be trusted.
In an interview with CNBC on Tuesday, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “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 [or] the Taliban.”
“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.
ISIS militants, who battle government forces and the Taliban and have carried out some of the deadliest attacks in cities, will not be part of the deal between the United States and the Taliban.
The terrorist group claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on a wedding in Kabul on Saturday that killed 63 people and wounded at least 182.