(CNSNews.com) – Evidently frustrated with Afghan leaders’ unwillingness to end a political standoff that is holding up an initiative to end America’s longest war, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Monday that the U.S. is reducing its aid to Afghanistan immediately by $1 billion.
A further $1 billion reduction in aid could follow next year, and the U.S. will also look at other possible reductions, and “reconsider our pledges to future donor conferences for Afghanistan,” he warned.
Pompeo released a blunt statement after he failed, during a rushed visit to Kabul, to achieve an agreement between rival leaders Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, both of whom claim to have won a presidential election last fall.
Ghani was formally announced last month as the winner, but Abdullah refused to accept loss in an election marked by vote-rigging allegations and a low turnout. Both duly declared themselves president.
Their failure to break the impasse has stalled progress on talks between the government and the Taliban, as well as mutual prisoner releases intended as goodwill measures. March 10 was the date set for the prisoner release and the start of “intra-Afghan negotiations” but the government has yet to put together its team for the talks.
“The United States is disappointed in them and what their conduct means for Afghanistan and our shared interests,” said Pompeo of Ghani and Abdullah. “Their failure has harmed U.S.-Afghan relations and, sadly, dishonors those Afghan, Americans, and coalition partners who have sacrificed their lives and treasure in the struggle to build a new future for this country.”
“Because this leadership failure poses a direct threat to U.S. national interests, effective immediately, the U.S. government will initiate a review of the scope of our cooperation with Afghanistan,” he said.
Pompeo told reporters traveling home with him, however, that despite the setback a U.S. troop drawdown will continue as stipulated by an agreement signed between the U.S. and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar last month.
About one-third of the around 13,000 U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan are due to be withdrawn by mid-July (within 135 days of the signing date). On condition of Taliban compliance – including crucially its pledge to deny al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups freedom to operate – the remaining 8,600 U.S. troops, along with troops of NATO allies, should leave by the end of April next year.
Pompeo also stressed that U.S. backing of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) would continue unabated. U.S. support for an entity “that we have invested so much time and blood and treasure in” was “central.”
From Kabul, Pompeo traveled to Doha to meet with Taliban officials before returning to the United States. In contrast to his expressions of exasperation with Ghani and Abdullah, he said the terrorist group has so far kept to its side of the signed agreement.
“They committed to reducing violence; they have largely done that,” he said, adding that the Taliban was also working on a team for the intra-Afghan negotiations.
“The reduction of violence is real,” Pompeo said earlier in his remarks. “It’s not perfect, but it’s in a place that’s pretty good. We’re continuing to honor our commitment that says that we will engage [the Taliban] only when we are attacked. There haven’t been attacks on American forces since the peace agreement was signed, what, three weeks ago now, three-and-a-half weeks ago.”
‘Bumps and hurdles’
While talking to reporters, Pompeo sounded a more conciliatory tone than that of his earlier statement.
“I said the day we signed the agreements there are going to be bumps and hurdles along the way,” he said. “Every party has a responsibility to help lead Afghanistan forward. And I understand the struggles. I understand that these are deep, longtime conflicts.”
Pompeo said the progress made in recent months had been “extraordinary and unequaled,” adding that he hoped that would continue.
He said it was his expectation that Afghan leaders would “lead this path forward.”
“What we announced is entirely consistent with what we’ve told each of the parties all along the way about our expectation,” he said. “My observation is neither hopeful nor threatening. It is factual. These are the expectations that we have, that the Afghans themselves will lead this path forward.”
In Kabul, Pompeo met separately with the two rival politicians, then together. Gen. Scott Miller, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and of the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission, took part in some of the interactions.
Pompeo declined to go into details about the $1 billion reduction in aid, but rather indicates the U.S. hopes the threat will work.
“We’re hopeful, frankly, they’ll get their act together and we won’t have to do it,” he said. “But we are prepared to do that, if they can’t.”
According to the Congressional Research Service, Congress has appropriated nearly $137 billion in aid for Afghanistan since FY2002 – the fiscal year which began the month the U.S. invaded to topple the Taliban regime after its al-Qaeda ally attacked America.
About 63 percent of the funding has been for security, and 26 percent for development.
The Trump administration’s FY2021 budget request includes $4 billion for the ANDSF and $250 million in Economic Support Funds (down from $4.8 billion and $400 million respectively in the FY2020 request.)
The Pentagon’s FY2021 budget request includes $14 billion in direct war costs in Afghanistan.
Since 2001, 2,445 U.S. personnel have been killed in the war, 1,913 of them in combat. That includes fatalities during the original Operation Enduring Freedom and in the follow-on mission, Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, which began in 2015. More than 20,700 American personnel were wounded in action over that period.