Troop presence in Afghanistan would fall to 8,600
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump said Thursday that he intends to pull thousands of U.S. troops out of Afghanistan but would maintain a presence of 8,600 for now.
“We’re going down to 8,600, and then we make a determination from there as to what happens,” Trump told Fox News radio on Thursday. “We’ll make a determination, but we’re going down to 8,600, we’re bringing it down. We have it very well controlled.”
Trump’s remarks come as the U.S. is negotiating with the Taliban to reduce the roughly 14,000 troops now in Afghanistan after nearly 18 years of war. Both sides have indicated those talks are closing in on an agreement. Trump was briefed on the status of those talks this month at his golf course in New Jersey.
But Trump’s desire to reduce America’s military presence in Afghanistan has been fraught with political and military peril. Critics – including some of Trump’s strongest supporters – fear a U.S. withdrawal will open the door for a resurgence of al-Qaida, as well as other terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan, such as the Islamic State.
“We may be in such a rush to remove our forces that we find ourselves on the cusp of a strategic blunder,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., co-wrote in a Washington Post op-ed on Wednesday. “Any deal that calls for withdrawing our forces completely from Afghanistan is a bad deal for the United States.”
The move would reduce troop levels to one of the lowest points in the history of the war. U.S. troops swelled to nearly 100,000 at the highest mark in 2011 and dipped to 8,300 in 2017.
Trump has been considering a major withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan for months.
The Trump administration increased the U.S. commitment to the country more than a year ago by authorizing nearly 4,000 additional troops for what war commanders described at the time as a stalemate. Speaking in 2017, Trump described his approach as a retreat from nation-building in favor of what he called “principled realism.”
“My original instinct was to pull out and, historically, I like following my instincts,” Trump said at the time. “But all my life I’ve heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office.”