Concerns about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic have led U.S. officials to accelerate the drawdown of troops in Afghanistan ahead of a deadline agreed upon by the U.S. and the Taliban earlier this year.
Reuters reported that a U.S. plan to reduce the number of troops in the country to around 8,600 by mid-July will now be completed in June, due mostly to concerns about spreading the virus among U.S. service members.
“Due to COVID-19 concerns, we are moving towards that planned drawdown faster than anticipated,” a U.S. official added.
Other NATO soldiers could be withdrawn ahead of schedule as well, one official from a western country told our reporters.
“The drawdown by the U.S. was expected to be done in 135 days but it’s clear that they have almost completed the process in just about 90 days,” that official added.
The second unnamed official went on to explain that ongoing security concerns created by Taliban forces across the country necessitate keeping some presence in Afghanistan for the time being. According to documents seen by Reuters, the extremist group has struck around 4,500 times in various fashions since a deal between the U.S. and Taliban leaders was signed in late February.
“All allies have to maintain a fine balance on troop withdrawal as we cannot forget the fact that the war in Afghanistan is far from over,” the second official said.
A spokesman for the Pentagon confirmed to Reuters that the U.S. still planned to meet its troop drawdown goals by July, but would not confirm whether it was being done ahead of schedule.
“We are not providing updates on current troop levels primarily due to operational security concerns associated with the drawdown,” the spokesman said.