Speaking on a radio show on Thursday, U.S. President Donald J. Trump suggested that the United States planned to maintain a force presence of several thousand troops in Afghanistan following any agreement with the Taliban this year.
“We’re going down to 8,600 and then we make a determination from there as to what happens … we’re bringing it down,” Trump told Fox News Radio.
Repeating a remark he’d made during a July meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan in Washington, D.C., Trump added that he “could win that war so fast if I wanted to kill ten million people there … which I don’t.”
Though exact numbers are not public, the Trump administration increased the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan to around 14,000. The Obama administration, when it left office in January 2017, had maintained 8,400 troops in Afghanistan in a limited role. That number did not include contractors and civilians assisting the U.S. mission in the country.
Trump’s comments follow remarks by General Joseph Dunford, the U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warning that an agreement with the Taliban would take into consideration the security situation in Afghanistan.
“I think it’s premature,” Dunford said, to address the prospect of a total withdrawal. “I’m not using the ‘withdraw’ word right now,” he added. “We’re going to make sure our, that Afghanistan’s not a sanctuary.”
“It’s important to emphasize this, any agreement that we have moving forward, the President’s been very clear, is going to be conditions-based,” Dunford said. “So those conditions are what make me confident that it’s worth trying.“
Trump and Dunford’s remarks come as reports suggested Taliban representatives had been reviewing a proposed deal present by Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan.
On Wednesday, a senior Taliban representative told Agence France Presse that “all Shura (consultation) members have received the draft and they are reading it carefully.”
In talks with the U.S. special representative, the Taliban has indicated that its preference is for a total U.S. military drawdown in Afghanistan.
The broad framework agreement that Khalilzad has sought is a total U.S. drawdown in exchange for guarantees from the Taliban that they would not allow Afghan territory under their control to be used by terrorist groups hostile to the United States.
Though the exact details of what withdrawal timeline Khalilzad may have proposed remain unclear, Afghan officials had suggested that 12 to 24 months was the most likely scenario.
It’s highly unlikely that Khalilzad presented a deal to the Taliban that included provisions for a 8,600-strong U.S. troop presence in the country.