While a tentative peace agreement with the Taliban has stalled, the U.S. is still withdrawing forces from Afghanistan, signaling a possible close to a war that has been ongoing for 18 years.
On Monday, Army Gen. Austin Miller— the commanding officer of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission and US Forces-Afghanistan — announced some 2,000 U.S. troops had left Afghanistan in the past year, bringing the total number of U.S. service members deployed in Afghanistan from 14,000 to 12,000, according to Military Times.
The withdrawal of U.S. troops is not reportedly part of any specified peace agreement with the Taliban, but rather the product of military units being rotated out of the country at the end of their deployment period without a replacement unit to fill their absence.
Both U.S. and Afghan officials indicated that the planned reduction would continue down to about 8,600 troops.
“With regard to a withdraw of forces, as we’ve always said, that it’ll be conditions-based, but we’re confident that we can go down to 8,600 without affecting our [counter-terrorism] operations, if you will,” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper told reporters travelling with him during a visit to Afghanistan over the weekend.
Under President Barrack Obama, the number of troops in Afghanistan went up to a planned surge of about 100,000 by 2011 before eventually dropping to about 8,400, according to Breitbart News. The phased withdrawal will bring the U.S. troop level to about the same point since President Donald Trump assumed office in 2017.
Afghan government officials reportedly signed off on the planned withdrawal of U.S. troops.
The withdrawal of U.S. troops had been a significant part of peace negotiations with the Taliban while they were still ongoing.
Those peace talks appeared to end in September after President Trump cancelled a meeting to be hosted at Camp David, citing frustrations with the Taliban targeting of U.S. troops while they were expected to be negotiating earnestly over a peace agreement.
Indeed, the Taliban had taken credit for a car bomb attack that killed one U.S. soldier and 11 others just days before the planned Camp David meetings.
While Trump said talks with the Taliban are “dead” Taliban negotiators have called for new negotiations and leaders of the insurgent force threatened greater U.S. suffering if the U.S. did not come to meet them with terms.
In response, Trump vowed to bomb the Taliban harder than ever before, and indeed Pentagon officials confirmed in September the largest number of bombs dropped on Taliban targets in the 9 years since the 2010 Afghan troop surge began, despite the continued withdrawal of U.S. troops.
Trump has made the withdrawal of U.S. troops from foreign warzones a part of his Presidential reelection campaign, having recently pulled troops from northern Syria, despite bipartisan pushback and concerns about the abandonment of regional allies.