…As US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis resigns***
The Trump administration is planning to withdraw thousands of troops from Afghanistan, US media say.
Reports, citing unnamed officials, say about 7,000 troops – roughly half the remaining US military presence in the country – could go home within months.
The reports come a day after the president announced the country’s military withdrawal from Syria.
In his letter of departure, Gen Mattis strongly hinted at policy differences with the president, but did not cite troop withdrawals directly.
Before his election, Mr Trump repeatedly publicly advocated leaving Afghanistan, but last year he indicated he would keep boots on the ground indefinitely to prevent the country’s collapse amid a Taliban resurgence.
Reports about the sharp reduction of forces emerged on Thursday, but have not been confirmed by US defence officials.
Afghan officials have insisted they are not concerned about the withdrawal.
“The fact that a few thousand foreign troops whose roles are primarily advisory and technical support will exit from Afghanistan will not have an impact on security situation,” presidential spokesman Harun Chukhansori told the BBC’s Afghan service.
He added that “Afghan security forces have had full responsibility of security affairs” since 2014.
However, US military reports suggest that Taliban control large swathes of Afghanistan – while a BBC study in January found that Taliban fighters were openly active in 70% of the country.
What is the story of the US in Afghanistan?
The US has been in Afghanistan since 2001, after the 11 September attacks – the longest war in US history.
When the Taliban, who controlled Afghanistan, refused to hand over al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden – who had claimed responsibility for the attack – then US President George W Bush launched a military operation to find Bin Laden and remove the Taliban from power.
US special forces eventually found and killed Bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011. American-led combat operations in Afghanistan officially ended in 2014.
But in the years since then, the Taliban’s power and reach have soared – and US troops have stayed on the ground in an effort to stabilise the country.
In September 2017 Mr Trump announced the US would send 3,000 extra troops to the country, which was a clear shift from his previous rhetoric.
In the meantime, US Defence Secretary James Mattis is resigning, the latest in a string of senior US officials to do so.
His announcement came a day after President Trump said he was withdrawing troops from Syria – a decision General Mattis is understood to oppose.
In his resignation letter, Gen Mattis strongly hinted at policy differences with Mr Trump.
He said the president had the right to appoint someone “whose views are better aligned with yours”.
Gen Mattis, 68, will leave the job in February. President Trump has not immediately named a successor, but said one would be appointed shortly.
Members of Congress from both sides of the political divide have reacted with shock to the resignation.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, from Mr Trump’s own Republican Party, said he was “distressed” to hear the resignation was reportedly due to “sharp differences” that Gen Mattis had with the president.
What did the resignation letter say?
Gen Mattis alluded to disagreements with the president in a number of policy areas.
In his letter, addressed to Mr Trump directly, he described his views on “treating allies with respect” and using “all the tools of American power to provide for the common defence”.
“Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position,” he wrote.
While not mentioning the Syria troop pull-out directly, Gen Mattis had previously warned that an early withdrawal from the country would be a “strategic blunder”.
He also appeared to point to differences on a number of other key issues, including Russia and Nato.
“My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues,” Gen Mattis wrote.
He confirmed he would continue in the role until the end of February to “allow sufficient time for a successor to be nominated and confirmed”.