Political News

Afghan President pens letter to Trump on troop costs

Posted January 31, 2019 12:23 p.m. EST

— Afghan leader Ashraf Ghani wrote a letter to President Donald Trump offering to look at how to reduce the costs of keeping US troops in Afghanistan.

It was given to Ambassador Alice Wells on Tuesday but it is unclear if the letter has yet been delivered to the White House or read by Trump, according to two sources who have seen the letter.

Afghan officials have been discussing how to handle a possible US withdrawal and they were aware that cost-saving would be attractive to Trump.

However, the letter did not propose a specific cost or troop reduction, but rather, suggested engaging in conversations about how costs and troops could be reduced, sources told CNN.

The letter did not suggest a specific time for the meetings on these topics to take place but said they should happen in the "near future," the sources added.

Ghani invited Trump to come to Kabul in the "near future" for discussions. Trump has only visited a war zone and US forces once during his presidency, when he went to Iraq late last year.

The letter was first reported by the New York Times.

Two years into his administration, Trump has not yet invited Ghani to the White House for an official visit.

There was a visit in the works around the time of last year's UN General Assembly in September but plans were ultimately scrapped by the White House which said the timing did not work.

At the time, State Department officials said that the timing had not worked for the Afghans either given their upcoming elections, implying that both sides wanted to delay.

Earlier this week, the US special representative for Afghanistan said the US and the Taliban had agreed in principle for a framework to talks that could end the nearly 20-year war.

In comments given to the New York Times and confirmed to CNN by the US Embassy in Kabul, Zalmay Khalilzad said the framework for peace would see the insurgent group vow to prevent the country from being used as a hub for terrorism in return for a US military withdrawal.

"We have a draft of the framework that has to be fleshed out before it becomes an agreement," Khalilzad told the Times on Monday. "The Taliban have committed, to our satisfaction, to do what is necessary that would prevent Afghanistan from ever becoming a platform for international terrorist groups or individuals."

The plan has been criticized by some who call for a different approach or sustained US presence there, and former US ambassador Ryan Crocker wrote a Washington Post op-ed saying the framework for talks had "delegitimized" the government of Afghanistan.

In an extended tweet thread on Thursday, Khalilzad said talks are not complete, but progress was made.

"You can't eat an elephant in one bite! And a forty year old war won't be resolved in one meeting, even if that meeting runs for close to a week," he wrote. "This is a moment for Afghans to begin to heal old wounds and chart a new course for their country. There are many players, many issues, and many moving parts. But we are on the right path, together."

According to a US defense official in December, the American military has received orders to commence preparations to pull about half of the US troops from Afghanistan.

The Pentagon is currently discussing a withdrawal along those lines, but the plan hinges on talks between the Afghan President and the Taliban, according to Trump administration officials.

The US has about 14,000 troops in the country, most of which are present as part of a larger NATO-led mission to train, advise and assist Afghan forces.