America's top general meets with Taliban, calls for a reduction in violence
(CNN) -- America's top military officer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, met with representatives of the Taliban in Qatar during an unannounced trip this week through the Middle East.
Milley "met with Taliban representatives in Doha, Qatar as part of the military channel established in the US-Taliban agreement," Joint Staff Spokesperson Cmdr. Sarah Flaherty said in a written readout of the meeting. "The Chairman discussed the need for an immediate reduction of violence and accelerate progress towards a negotiated political solution which contributes to regional stability and safeguards US national interests."
The meetings come amid continuing Taliban assaults against the Afghan government, signs it is not meeting the main condition of a February agreement with the US, as well as the ongoing reduction of US military forces in Afghanistan, which was ordered by the Trump administration in the wake of President Donald Trump's election defeat.
A US defense official confirmed an Associated Press report that Milley had previously met with Taliban negotiators in June, a meeting that was kept secret at the time.
Milley also met with Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani during his visit to the region, according to Flaherty.
US officials have consistently said that Taliban should reduce violence, but the insurgent group's attacks have continued despite fledging peace talks with the Afghan government in Qatar.
The participants in those talks recently announced that they would recess for 20 days for consultations.
In addition to its failure to reduce violence, US officials say the Taliban has not broken with al Qaeda either, the main condition of their February agreement with the Trump Administration.
"That's a big concern of ours. That is one of the commitments that they haven't lived up to...they will only live up to that commitment if we hold them to it," the defense official told CNN.
"I can't really get into the specific chatter that we're hearing, except to say that they want us to think that they're breaking from al Qaeda, but it's very clear to us that they haven't and it's very clear to us that if they are able to, they won't break that relationship," the official added.
Last month, acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller announced that the US would withdraw about 2,000 more US troops from Afghanistan by January 15, 2021 -- just days before President-elect Joe Biden takes office.
The withdrawal will leave approximately 2,500 troops in Afghanistan.
A US defense official has told CNN that the withdrawal has already begun, with a "few hundred" having already been sent home, saying that the plan is to withdraw a few hundred troops a week until the 2,500 number is reached in early January, prior to the 15 January deadline, to give US military planners a little flexibility if they run into unforeseen circumstance.
The troops being sent home include headquarters personnel. Some smaller bases will also be shuttered.
"What we're doing with the 2,500 number that we got left is maximizing the combat and advisory power that we have in Afghanistan so that we can continue to support our Afghan partners with that advising and also with combat support," the defense official said, while acknowledging that the military's ability to act in an advising capacity will be limited due to the reduced American footprint.
The official said that the commander of US troops in Afghanistan was seeking to "reduce the overall headquarters and focus on trigger pullers and combat power that is over there."
Some air assets and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms have also been adjusted or repositioned in order to meet the end goal of 2,500 personnel in country.
The remaining US forces will also support the non-US members of the NATO-led training mission in Afghanistan.
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