U.S. Exit From Afghanistan Won’t Create Power Vacuum, Russia Says 

(Bloomberg) -- A U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan won’t create a power vacuum and the Taliban can be a potential ally in the fight against Islamic State in the country, a top Russian official said.

If the U.S. fails to strike an agreement on a military pullout with Taliban, “they could stay for another few years but in the end they’ll have to go, and this time in disgrace,” Zamir Kabulov, President Vladimir Putin’s Afghanistan envoy, told reporters in Moscow on Tuesday.

U.S. President Donald Trump said Feb. 5 that he’ll reduce the 14,000-strong American military presence in Afghanistan, adding that officials are having “constructive talks” with the Taliban and other Afghan groups. Among U.S. demands is a commitment by the Taliban to stop terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and Islamic State from continuing to use Afghanistan as a base of operations. After losing more than 2,300 soldiers and spending more than $900 billion in the country since 2001, critics say the U.S. risks losing hard-won gains.

Russia last week hosted talks between the Taliban and opponents of U.S.-backed Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at which the militant group said it’s seeking the pullout of all foreign troops from Afghanistan within months. Kabulov described the meeting as the “start of national reconciliation” in the conflict-torn nation, where the Soviet Union fought a decade-long war before completing a humiliating withdrawal in 1989.

The Russian official downplayed the risks of instability if U.S. forces leave Afghanistan. “There won’t be a vacuum in Afghanistan,” he said. “When all Afghans, the authorities in Kabul and the Taliban, reach a peace agreement and won’t fight each other, then they’ll deal with ISIS in an Afghan manner,” Kabulov said.

The Afghan government is worrying openly that the U.S. will leave them at the mercy of the Taliban, which already controls or contests about half the territory in Afghanistan.

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