Since before his election, President Donald Trump has been calling for an end to the nearly two-decades-long war in Afghanistan, and while he has taken steps toward doing just that he has faced opposition at every turn.
Even so, President Trump is still attempting to downsize the ranks of U.S. troops deployed in Afghanistan and revealed in a recent interview that he hopes to have the number down to no more than 5,000 by Election Day, Voice of America (VOA) reported.
The VOA noted that there are currently about 8,600 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, down from a surge of a couple of years ago of about 13,000 in total, with the drawdown that has already occurred being part of a tenuous cease-fire and peace agreement with the insurgent Taliban militants.
“It’s already planned”
The revelation from President Trump about an additional reduction in troop levels in Afghanistan came during a contentious interview with journalist Jonathan Swan of Axios for the media outlet’s program on HBO.
Swan asked about the number of U.S. troops still in the warzone and Trump replied, “We’ll be down in a very short — It’s already planned.”
“Let me explain,” the president continued, according to the Washington Examiner. “We’ll be down in a very short period of time to 8,000, then we’re going to be down to 4,000. We’re negotiating right now. We’ve been there for 19 years.”
Pressed for a timeline on when troops would be withdrawn from the war-torn region, Trump declined to provide a specific date but merely said, “Very soon.”
Swan shifted gears and asked what the troop level would be by Election Day in November, to which Trump replied, “Probably anywhere from 4,000 to 5,000.”
Such a drawdown ahead of the election would be “big news,” as Swan himself acknowledged, but as VOA pointed out, pulling it off will likely be contingent upon whether the Taliban uphold their end of the peace agreement that has already been reached with the U.S.
The main crux of the agreement is that the U.S. will gradually withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by July 2021, provided Taliban attacks on civilians cease and its leaders ensure that the war-torn nation is never again used as a safe haven for international terrorists.
A secondary aspect of the peace deal is a requirement that the Taliban reach a mutual peace agreement with the Afghan government, and therein lies the rub. Peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban have repeatedly hit roadblocks, such as unobserved ceasefires and continued attacks on civilian targets and especially a proposed prisoner swap.
There should be no doubt that President Trump wants nothing more than to bring all U.S. service members home from Afghanistan and, hopefully, the conditions for doing so will be met, and peace — at long last — can have a chance in the tumultuous central Asian nation.