Washington (Agencies): American troops have started leaving Afghanistan for the initial troop withdrawal required in the US-Taliban peace deal.
Army Col. Sonny Leggett, spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan, said in a statement that the US is moving ahead with plans to cut the number of forces in the country from about 13,000 to 8,600 over the next four and a half months.
The pullout comes as Afghanistan’s rival leaders were each sworn in as president in separate ceremonies Monday, creating a complication for the United States as it figures out how to move forward on the deal and end the 18-year war.
The sharpening dispute between President Ashraf Ghani, who was declared the winner of last September’s election, and his rival Abdullah Abdullah, who charged fraud in the vote along with the elections complaints commission, threatens to wreck the next key steps and even risks devolving into new violence.
The US has not tied the withdrawal to political stability in Afghanistan or any specific outcome from the all-Afghan peace talks. Instead, it depends on the Taliban meeting its commitment to prevent “any group or individual, including al-Qaida, from using the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies.”
Under the peace agreement, the US troop withdrawal had to begin within 10 days after the deal was signed on Feb. 29. The long-term plan is for the US to remove all troops within 14 months if security conditions are met.