The Taliban have welcomed comments by President Donald Trump that he’d like to withdraw all remaining American forces from war-torn Afghanistan by Christmas, much quicker than the timeline laid out in a peace deal between the militant group and the U.S.
The militant group “welcomes this announcement and considers it a very positive step in the implementation of the agreement,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed said in an e-mailed statement. The group is seeking “good and positive relations” with all countries including the U.S., he said. Trump’s announcement comes as the Taliban and the Afghan government are holding their first direct peace talks in Doha, Qatar with the aim of ending the nearly two-decade-old war that has killed tens of thousands of people and cost the U.S. almost $1 trillion since its invasion in 2001.
Trump’s call for faster troop withdrawal took the Taliban by surprise because the February peace deal with the U.S. had set plans for all American troops to withdraw by May 2021. There was no an immediate comment from Afghanistan government. Afghanistan is the site of the U.S.’s longest war, and 5,000 American troops are currently serving there. U.S. defense officials have previously said they were looking to draw down American forces to between 4,000 and 5,000 by the end of November.