MOSCOW (AP) — The U.S. has promised to withdraw half of its troops from Afghanistan by the end of April, a Taliban official said Wednesday, but the U.S. military said it has received no orders to begin packing up.
Taliban official Abdul Salam Hanafi, speaking on the sidelines of a meeting in Moscow between the Taliban and other prominent Afghan figures, said that U.S. officials promised the pullout will begin this month.
"The Americans told us that from the beginning of February to the end of April, half of the troops from Afghanistan will be withdrawn," he said.
Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Rob Manning said, however, the U.S. military had received orders to begin withdrawing.
"Peace talks with the Taliban continue, but (the Defense Department) has not received a directive to change the force structure in Afghanistan," he said.
Hanafi said the U.S. and the Taliban will each create a technical committee that "will work on a timetable for the withdrawal of remaining troops."
The Pentagon has reportedly prepared plans to withdraw half its 14,000 troops by the summer.
Efforts to find a negotiated end to Afghanistan's longest war have accelerated in recent months since the appointment last September of Zalmay Khalilzad as Washington's peace envoy. He has held several meetings with the Taliban.
Talks have mostly focused on a U.S. troop withdrawal and guarantees from the Taliban that Afghanistan would not again be used as a safe haven for terrorists to attack other countries, according to both Khalilzad and Taliban officials.
In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Donald Trump said the U.S. has been holding constructive talks with a number of Afghan groups, including the Taliban.
"As we make progress in these negotiations, we will be able to reduce our troop presence and focus on counter-terrorism," he said.
Associated Press writers Kathy Gannon in Islamabad and Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.