A U.S. official told The Associated Press that troops have started to leave Afghanistan.

The U.S.-Taliban peace agreement required troop withdrawal from the country 10 days after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper signed the deal on February 29:

Hundreds of troops are heading out of the country as previously planned, but they will not be replaced as the U.S. moves ahead with plans to cut the number of forces in the country from about 13,000 to 8,600, the official said.

The official spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity to discuss the movement ahead of a public announcement.

The pullout comes as Afghanistan’s rival leaders were each sworn in as president in separate ceremonies on Monday, creating a complication for the United States as it figures out how to move forward on the deal and end the 18-year war.

The sharpening dispute between President Ashraf Ghani, who was declared the winner of last September’s election, and his rival Abdullah Abdullah, who charged fraud in the vote along with the elections complaints commission, threatens to wreck the next key steps and even risks devolving into new violence.

The U.S. has not tied the withdrawal to political stability in Afghanistan or any specific outcome from the all-Afghan peace talks. Instead, it depends on the Taliban meeting its commitment to prevent “any group or individual, including al-Qaida, from using the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies.”

Gen. Scott Miller, the U.S. commander in Kabul, will “assess conditions once the troop level goes down to 8,600.”

The removal of troops should be completed within 14 months.


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