Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is accelerating a plan to cut up to half of the workforce at the US embassy in Kabul starting at the end of next month, sparking concern it will undermine the fragile Afghan peace process, US officials and congressional aides said.
Pompeo’s order for the largest US diplomatic mission comes about a year earlier than expected, a surprise development given the meager progress in US talks with Taliban militants on an agreement that would pave the way for a US troop withdrawal and an end to America’s longest war.
The Taliban, their negotiating leverage bolstered by U.S. President Donald Trump’s public impatience to end the war, could dig in further because they would regard a large embassy drawdown as more confirmation of his eagerness to reduce the US role in Afghanistan.
The Kabul embassy is a testament to the size of America’s investment in Afghanistan since it went to war there in 2001 after the September 11 attacks. With a workforce of about 1,500, the heavily fortified compound underwent an $800 million expansion four years ago and now includes 700 beds for staff.
One US official said the reduction should be seen as part of a global redistribution of US diplomats required by the Trump administration’s national security strategy shift from emphasizing counter-terrorism to confronting renewed “great power” rivalry with Russia and China.
Four sources, including three US officials, confirmed the plan to reduce the embassy staff by up to half. One said it would be achieved by not filling posts that regularly go vacant.