The Trump administration is expected this week to announce the withdrawal of 4,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
Approximately 12,000 to 13,000 U.S. troops are currently positioned in Afghanistan, and the upcoming withdrawal would reduce that number to 8,000 or 9,000, NBC News reported.
U.S. officials told NBC News that the withdrawal is a “phased withdrawal” that could take place over several months, and could consist partly of not replacing troops during typical rotations.
The news follows in line with President Trump’s goal to withdraw troops from Afghanistan – something he indicated he wanted to see by the November 2020 election.
“The commander feels confident we can go down to a lower level without jeopardizing our ability to ensure that Afghanistan doesn’t become a safe haven for terrorism,” Secretary of Defense Esper said last week.
Esper indicated that CENTCOM forces could be relocated to the “priority theater” of the Asia Pacific region.
Esper had said in October that U.S. forces could be scaled down to 8,600 without having an effect on counterterrorism efforts.
The military confirmed it has not yet received drawdown orders.
A spokesman for U.S. Forces-Afghanistan said in a statement, “U.S. Forces-Afghanistan has not received orders to reduce troop levels in Afghanistan. We remain fully committed to the Resolute Support mission and our Afghan partners, and focused on our key objective: ensuring Afghanistan is never again used as a safe haven for terrorists who threaten the United States, our allies or our interests.”
The U.S. is “taking a brief pause” in newly restarted peace talks with the Taliban after a suicide bombing near Bagram Airfield – which hosts U.S. troops – left two Afghan civilians dead and at least 70 wounded.
The withdrawal of troops is considered “part of trying to reset the talks with the Taliban,” a former defense official said.
“This takes us to the minimum that you have to keep in the country to remain credible negotiating with the Taliban,” the official added.
Reports have been surfacing since August 2017 of Trump’s intention to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. In December 2018, reports indicated that Trump would withdraw half of the 14,000 troops stationed in the country at the time.
In August 2019, Trump conceded that U.S. troops would “always” remain in Afghanistan to counter terrorism.