U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper hinted at bringing most troops home from Afghanistan in the coming months thanks to a deal struck between the United States and the Taliban.
In an op-ed published by The Washington Post on Saturday, Esper said the U.S. has not experienced a major terror attack since Sept. 11, 2001, and the peace deal was “the best chance we have to ensuring it never does again, while safely bringing our troops home.” Since 2001, the United States has had a permanent presence in Afghanistan. Nearly 3,000 U.S. soldiers have died in years since.
The agreement between the United States and the Taliban, signed by U.S. and Taliban leaders on Saturday, sets parameters the Taliban must abide by in order for U.S. forces to leave.
If the United States assesses that the Taliban is honoring the terms of the deal, it will reduce its military presence to 8,600 troops “within a matter of months,” Esper wrote. “If progress stalls, then our drawdown likely will be suspended, as well. At no time will we relinquish the right of self-defense.”
He added: “Should the Taliban renege on its obligations, it will bear full responsibility for forfeiting a chance for peace, economic opportunity and a role in deciding the future of the country.”
According to the agreement, the U.S. has agreed to reduce its forces to 8,600 in 135 days, then will withdraw all of its forces in 9.5 months after that. The complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan is contingent on an agreement that the Taliban will not conduct acts of terrorism on Afghan soil against the United States or it allies.
Esper added that the United States “will continue its financial and military support to the Afghan government and its security forces.”
“Peace will not come through military means; rather, safety and security for the United States, our allies and Afghanistan will be won when all Afghans lay down their arms, sit beside one another and decide their future together. A political solution is the best way forward,” he wrote.
“If the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan live up to these commitments, we will have a powerful path forward to end the war in Afghanistan and bring our troops home,” President Donald Trump said.
Esper praised Trump’s leadership for getting the deal done. Notably, Trump campaigned on bringing troops home from the Middle East in 2016 and vocally criticized what he considered the United States’ endless presence in the region.
“Thanks to President Trump’s leadership,” Esper wrote, “it is the best chance we have ever had to end this conflict, to ensure Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists who want to attack America, and to bring our troops home.”
Esper also said that further details regarding the implementation of the plan will be given to Congress “in the coming days.”