Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 26 May 2019

Top US senator warns Donald Trump against Afghan withdrawal

In Pakistan, Lindsey Graham said the president cannot lose Afghanistan amid reports of a major pull-out

US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham gives a press conference at the US Embassy after meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019. AP
US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham gives a press conference at the US Embassy after meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019. AP

A top Republican senator has opposed a pull-out from Afghanistan amid reports that US President Donald Trump is preparing a dramatic military withdrawal from the war-torn country.

Senator Lindsey Graham said on a visit to the region that Afghanistan still needed US help and a Taliban military victory would be unconscionable.

The South Carolina senator also said he believed Pakistan's new prime minister, Imran Khan, could reset damaged ties with Washington and he would urge Mr Trump to meet the former cricketer as soon as possible.

Officials were last month reported to have begun preparations to withdraw up to half of America's 14,000 troops from Afghanistan amid Mr Trump's frustration at the lack of progress in the 17-year-long campaign.

"The world's not going to let the Taliban take Afghanistan over by force of arms,” Sen Graham said. “That would be unconscionable. Any president who let that happen would go down in history very poorly."

Sen Graham said Afghanistan still needed US help and Afghan forces were now leading the fight against the Taliban, suffering heavy casualties. Since August 2017, 18 Americans and 5,600 Afghan personnel had died in the war.

He said: “So those who want the Afghans to fight and be in the front of the fight, they are. To those who believe they should do more and America should do less, that's coming true. One thing I can tell President Trump and the American people is that we are still needed. It is in our interests to see this through.”

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He said he had not had a discussion with Mr Trump on numbers of troops that may leave Afghanistan and he believed initial reports of high numbers had been wrong.

Sen Graham also heaped praise on Mr Khan, saying he believed the new prime minister could heal ties with Washington that have been blighted by mistrust and recrimination.

“I was blown away. I can see why he won. Very impressive and I have been coming here for a long time,” he said of Pakistan's new leader.

“I am going to go back and talk to President Trump about my meeting with Prime Minister Khan. I am going to urge him to meet with the prime minister as soon as practical. I think they will hit it off. Similar personalities,” he continued.

Pakistan is widely blamed in Washington for aiding Afghanistan's Taliban-led insurgency, offering the militants safe havens and support.

But Sen Graham said he had seen a welcome change in Pakistan's policy with the military clearing militant hotbeds such as North Waziristan.

"This is the first time I can go back and say there's a lot to be gained here," he told a press conference in Islamabad.

"I have a different view now than I did maybe even a year ago. I have seen things change, all in a positive direction."

Updated: January 20, 2019 09:33 PM

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