Trump: Taliban deal close, US troops to drop to 8,600

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford speak to reporters during a briefing at the Pentagon, on August 28, 2019. (AP)

President Donald Trump said on Thursday the US plans to withdraw more than 5,000 American troops from Afghanistan and then will determine further drawdowns in the longest war in American history.

Trump’s comment comes as a US envoy is in his ninth round of talks with the Taliban to find a resolution to the nearly 18-year-old war. The president, who campaigned on ending the war, said the US was “getting close” to making a deal, but that the outcome of the US-Taliban talks remained uncertain.

“Who knows if it’s going to happen,” Trump told Fox News Radio’s “The Brian Kilmeade Show.”

Trump did not offer a timeline for withdrawing troops. The Pentagon has been developing plans to withdraw as many as half of the 14,000 US troops still there, but the Taliban want all US and NATO forces withdrawn.

“We’re going down to 8,600 (troops) and then we’ll make a determination from there,” Trump said, adding that the US is going to have a “high intelligence” presence in Afghanistan going forward.

Reducing the US troop level to 8,600 would bring the total down to about where it was when Trump took office in January 2017. According to the NATO/Resolute Support mission, the US had 9,000 troops in Afghanistan in 2016, during the Obama administration, and 8,000 in 2017.

Trump has called Afghanistan - where the Taliban harbored members of the al-Qaida network responsible for 9/11 - the “Harvard University of terror.”

If terror groups ever attacked America from Afghanistan again, “we will come back with a force like they’ve never seen before,” Trump said. But he added: “I don’t see that happening.”

Al-Qaeda insurgents used Afghanistan as a base from which to plan the September 11, 2001, attack on the United States. A month later, US troops invaded Afghanistan, where they have remained ever since, making it the longest war in American history. More than 2,400 American service members have died in the conflict.

A Taliban spokesman also has said that they’re close to a final agreement. But even as the talks go on, there are persistent attacks by the Taliban across Afghanistan, and an affiliate of the ISIS, has taken root in the country and is expanding its base.

“Taliban and ISIS are still potential threats for the national security of Afghanistan and the US. The Afghan government strongly believes that any reduction of US forces in Afghanistan will be based on conditions on the ground,” Sediq Seddiqi, a spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, said in a statement.

He added that the Afghan government hopes that Afghanistan and the US will continue to fight international terrorism together as the countries have done for many years.

“The level of threats from the Taliban and ISIS has increased in Afghanistan and it is therefore needed now more than any other time to counter them together and make sure that we will not leave any gap that would give the Taliban an opportunity to turn this country again in to a safe haven for international terrorists,” he said.

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 10:00 - GMT 07:00