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Pentagon unsure about withdrawal date for US troops in Afghanistan

Soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division gather their equipment before boarding a CH-47F Chinook of the Task Force Flying Dragons or 1st General Support Aviation Battalion, 25th Avn. Regiment, 16th Combat Avn. Brigade, in the Nawa Valley, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan,

Photo: U.S. Army Photo by Staff Sgt.Whitney Houston | FlickrCC

WASHINGTON – The Pentagon said Thursday that the withdrawal of US troops in Afghanistan would be contingent on the Taliban's commitments to uphold a peace deal brokered last year.

"The Taliban have not fulfilled their commitments," Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters at a press conference.

He added that Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was looking into the matter and was discussing the way forward in the war-torn country with NATO allies and partners.

"It is currently under discussion with our partners and allies to make the best decisions about our presence in Afghanistan," said Kirby, adding that the Biden administration had not made a decision.

The United States signed a treaty with the Taliban last February that would usher in a permanent ceasefire and reduce the US military's footprint from about 13,000 to 8,600 by mid-July last year. According to the agreement, all foreign armed forces would have left the war-torn country by May 2021.

Former President Donald Trump, who campaigned to end "ridiculous endless wars" in the Middle East in 2016, accelerated the dismantling of US troops in November.

The then incumbent Pentagon chief Christopher Miller announced that the Trump administration would reduce its military presence in Afghanistan to 2,500 soldiers by January 15 and in Iraq to 2,500 soldiers.

"This decision by the president is based on the continued collaboration with his national security cabinet over the past few months, including ongoing discussions with myself and my colleagues across the US administration," said Miller at the Pentagon.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned that an early or uncoordinated withdrawal of Afghanistan could have unintended consequences for the largest military organization in the world.

"Afghanistan runs the risk of becoming a platform again for international terrorists to plan and organize attacks on our home countries. And ISIS could rebuild the terror caliphate in Afghanistan that was lost in Syria and Iraq," said the NATO chief with reference to Militants of the Islamic State.

NATO joined the international security effort in Afghanistan in 2003 and currently has more than 7,000 soldiers in the country. NATO's security operation in Afghanistan began after the alliance first activated its mutual defense clause known as Article 5 following the 9/11 attacks.

There are approximately 2,500 US troops in Afghanistan.

The wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria have cost US taxpayers more than $ 1.57 trillion since September 11, 2001, according to a Department of Defense report. The war in Afghanistan, which has turned into America's longest running conflict, began 19 years ago and cost US taxpayers $ 193 billion, according to the Pentagon.

The issues raised in the agreement, which leave the US presence in the air, include the introduction of intra-Afghan negotiations and the guarantee that Afghanistan will not become a haven for terrorists again.

"The secretary was very clear, and so was President Biden, that it is time to end this war, but we want to do it responsibly, we want to do it in accordance with our national security interests and those of our Afghan partners," Kirby told reporters in the Pentagon.

– CNBC's Christian Nunley contributed to this report from Virginia.

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