March 10 (UPI) -- The United States has begun withdrawing troops from Afghanistan under the terms of a peace deal signed with the Taliban as the Afghan government remains mired in a leadership struggle.
Under the terms of the historic agreement signed late last month, the United States committed to reducing its forces from 13,000 troops to 8,600 within 135 days.
That process began Monday, U.S. Forces Afghanistan spokesman Col. Sonny Leggett said in a statement, adding that even with the draw-down, the United States will maintain "all the military means and authorities to accomplish our objectives -- including conducting counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda and [Islamic State] and providing support to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces."
In exchange for the U.S. troop reductions, the Taliban agreed to participate in intra-Afghan talks with the Kabul government to reach a power-sharing arrangement.
Those talks were scheduled to start Tuesday in Norway but have been delayed as the Afghan government was preoccupied by a political dispute and the reluctance of President Ashraf Ghani to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners as called for in the U.S.-Taliban peace deal.
Ghani and rival Afghanistan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah held dueling inaugurations Monday -- both have claimed victory in the presidential election last year. Ghani, however, was declared the winner by the country's electoral commission and is recognized by the international community as Afghanistan's legitimate leader.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged Ghani and Abdullah to form a unity government and said Washington "opposes any effort to establish a parallel government or any use of force to resolve political differences," while U.S. peace envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad promised to "continue to assist" them in finding a solution.
Ghani's swearing-in ceremony in Kabul Monday was marred when at least three rockets were fired nearby, with one landing inside the grounds of the presidential palace, damaging a vehicle. The Islamic State claimed responsibility.
Ghani said in his inaugural address he will announce the composition of his intra-Afghan negotiating team on Tuesday, as well as an official position on the release of Taliban prisoners.
The Taliban have demanded the prisoner exchange be completed before the start of any negotiations.