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Trump says US to retain military presence in Afghanistan, even with peace deal

Paratroopers patrol along Highway 1 (US Army/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

President Donald Trump says the United States will continue to maintain a military presence in Afghanistan even after a peace deal with the Taliban is reached.

Speaking in an interview on Fox News radio on August 29, Trump said troop levels would fall to around 8,600 “and then we make a determination from there.”

“Oh yeah, you have to keep a presence,” Trump said in the interview.

“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,” he added.

Trump’s comments come as U.S. and Taliban negotiators are engaged in a ninth round of talks in the Qatari capital, Doha, to seal a historic deal to end the 18-year Afghan conflict.

The United States formally ended its Afghan combat mission in 2014 but about 14,000 U.S. troops remain in the country, mainly training and advising government forces battling the Taliban and other militants. Some U.S. forces carry out counterterrorism operations.

Trump also warned that if an attack on the United States originated from Afghanistan, “we would come back with a force like…never before.”

On August 28, a senior Taliban commander in Pakistan told AFP that leaders of the militant group were reviewing a proposed peace agreement at an undisclosed location along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Their response to the Taliban negotiating team in Doha may “take a day or two” since the Taliban leadership needs to reach a consensus, the commander said.

Meanwhile, Zalmay Khalilzad, who has been leading the U.S. negotiating team, will come to Kabul “in one or two” days and brief Afghan President Ashraf Ghani about the agreement, according to officials close to the talks.

A senior security official in Kabul said the Taliban and U.S. officials had agreed on a timeline of about 14 to 24 months for the withdrawal of U.S. forces.

Details would be shared with the Afghan government before they were made public, the official said.

The negotiations have focused on issues including a U.S. troop withdrawal, a cease-fire, intra-Afghan negotiations to follow, and guarantees by the militant group not to harbor terrorist groups.

The Taliban has refused to negotiate directly with the U.S.-backed government in Kabul.