President Trump said Thursday that the U.S. would leave 8,600 troops stationed in Afghanistan even if it secures a peace agreement with the Taliban.
“We’re going down to 8,600 [from the current 14,000], and then we’ll make a determination from there as to what happens,” Trump said on Fox News radio. “Oh yeah, you have to keep a presence. We’re going to keep a presence there. We’re reducing that presence very substantially, and we’re going to always have a presence. We’re going to have high intelligence.”
On Wednesday, General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said a full troop withdrawal from Afghanistan would be “premature” at the moment, shortly after the Taliban signaled it might be nearing a peace agreement with U.S. diplomats.
“Right now, it’s our judgment that the Afghans need support to deal with the level of violence that is associated with the insurgency today,” Dunford said. “If an agreement happens in the future, if the security environment changes, then obviously our posture may adjust.”
Republican senator Lindsey Graham, a frequent Trump ally, warned over the weekend that anything less than 8,600 troops would be too anemic a presence to effectively prevent terrorism.
“To go below that I think would be really risky,” Graham said.
Earlier this month, Trump reportedly expressed a desire to bring home all U.S. troops from Afghanistan before the 2020 presidential election.
“We’ve been there for 19 years. We’re really serving as policemen,” Trump said. “We could win Afghanistan in two days or three days or four days if we wanted, but I’m not looking to kill 10 million people.”
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said this week that U.S. officials “reserve the right to keep all options on the table” regarding Afghanistan.