A White House official talking with reporters on Friday said there has been no change in President Obama’s plans to draw down American forces in Afghanistan from the current 9,800 to about 5,500 by the end of this year.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who arrives Sunday for several days of diplomatic meetings with Obama and to speak before Congress, has asked the administration to reconsider the expected troop reduction.
“There’s been some concern raised with the spread of the Islamic State and its potential emergence in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” said Jeff Eggers, Senior Director for Afghanistan and Pakistan on the National Security Council. “This is something that President Ghani is of course paying attention to and we are as well.”
But while it’s a factor, Eggers said it is not the only one, and that positive developments in the region have also gone into the White House’s planning for Afghanistan.
One is the potential for talks between the Afghan government and Taliban leadership, with an end to reconciling and ending the now 14 years of fighting.
“[This] could potentially lay out a process for peace in Afghanistan,’ he said. “That is being pursued no only regionally, but more importantly directly between Kabul and Islamabad [Pakistan], and there’s been a series of discussions there to enable that.”
The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria , or ISIS, is a factor, he said, “but it’s one of several ... that we see as emerging and developing over the last year that we’ll continue to monitor.”
ISIS, the jihadist army born out of Sunni extremists from the Iraq War, has wrested control of large swaths of Syria and Iraq in the past two years.
Though it has suffered some recent setbacks in Iraq by Kurdish forces backed by U.S.-led air power, ISIS recently took credit for a terror attack in Tunisia that left 23 dead.
Eggers said that while the U.S. backs the steps taken by Ghani’s government to reconcile with the Taliban, U.S. “red lines” for going along with an agreement haven’t changed. The U.S. still requires that the Taliban put down their weapons and accept the Afghan constitution, which includes protections for women and minorities.
-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.