Taliban Endorses Trump Re-Election Campaign, Hopes for Total US Troop Withdrawal from Afghanistan

The Taliban offered its endorsement for President Donald Trump's re-election campaign Saturday, with the Islamic fundamentalist group expressing its hope his administration pulls all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan.

The spokesman for the hardline Afghan Taliban, Zabihullah Mujahid, told CBS News via phone Saturday that the group's senior leaders were happy to learn Trump is recovering from his COVID-19 diagnosis. The Taliban leadership said they "hope" Trump wins the upcoming November 3 presidential election against former Vice President Joe Biden. The group said its reason for endorsing the U.S. president is tied to his administration's ongoing efforts to withdraw the remaining 5,000 military troops from Afghanistan after 19 years of combat in the Middle East—America's longest war in history.

"We hope he will win the election and wind up U.S. military presence in Afghanistan," Mujahid told CBS News in a phone interview. He cited a White House tweet Thursday which announced "our troops in Afghanistan are coming home by the end of the year."

"Trump might be ridiculous for the rest of the world, but he is sane and wise man for the Taliban," a second senior Taliban leader added.

Last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. military is on track to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by the spring of 2021. But in a surprise announcement made on Twitter Thursday, Trump moved that timeline even closer, saying troops should be out by Christmas this year. Several military officials placed doubt on that deadline, describing it as a pre-election political promise that jeopardizes already difficult negotiations with the Taliban and the Afghan government.

"I've been bringing them home, we're down to 4,000 trips in Afghanistan and I'll have them home by the end of the year, they're coming home as we speak," Trump told Fox Business Network Thursday. "Nineteen years is enough, they're acting as policemen, they're not acting as troops, we have the greatest troops in the world. I wiped out 100 percent of the ISIS caliphate, I killed [Quds force commander Qasem] Soleimani, I killed [ISIS leader Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi."

Trump went on to tout his Islamic State militant kill last year as more impressive than former President Barack Obama's efforts, which led to the death of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May 2011.

U.S. intelligence reports released in June revealed Russian bounties were offered to Taliban-linked militants in exchange for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan. The report on the bounty targeting of U.S. soldiers stalled advances in the withdrawal talks. The Associated Press reported Saturday that Trump's Afghan troop withdrawal announcement was a surprise, with military officials describing the plan as "ridiculous."

"It's October, so no – it's ridiculous. It's simply can't happen," said Jason Dempsey, a former infantry officer who served in Afghanistan, in an interview with the AP Thursday. "We could make some superficial show of pulling out uniformed troops, but obviously we still have a very massive contractor presence, and we would need a uniformed headquarters to oversee the shutdown and withdrawal of everything we have in country."

"It's no surprise that the Taliban have welcomed Trump's announcement that he'd have the troops home by Christmas. They spent 19 years fighting for this," said Ashley Jackson, the director of the think tank ODI's Centre for the Study of Armed Groups, in an interview with The Guardian newspaper Thursday.

The Trump campaign responded to the Taliban endorsement of his re-election bid in a Saturday statement saying the president will always protect American interests "by any means necessary."

The Taliban officials who spoke with CBS News added remarks about how they were initially concerned for Trump's wellbeing after his coronavirus infection last week.

"When we heard about Trump being COVID-19 positive, we got worried for his health, but seems he is getting better," another Taliban senior leader added during the call, highlighting the president's diagnosis alongside several other White House staffers in the past few weeks.

Newsweek reached out to the White House for additional reaction to the Taliban endorsement Saturday afternoon.

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US President Donald Trump, with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, holds a press conference on China on May 29, 2020, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC. - Trump held the press conference amid soaring tensions between the two powers, including over the status of Hong Kong and the novel coronavirus pandemic. MANDEL NGAN / Contributor/Getty Images