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Pentagon: US has less than 8,600 troops in Afghanistan now – meeting goal laid out in Taliban ‘peace deal’

Soldiers load onto a Chinook helicopter in Afghanistan. (1st Lt. Verniccia Ford/U.S. Army)
July 15, 2020

In the 135 days since signing a peace agreement with the Taliban, the U.S. has withdrawn around 4,000 troops deployed to Afghanistan, bringing the total deployed troops below 8,600. At the same time, the U.S. turned over five of its bases to Afghan government forces.

The initial terms of the peace agreement with the Taliban called for a reduction of troops from around 13,000 in February, down to around 8,600 by the early part of the summer. Pentagon Spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman confirmed in a statement to American Military News late Tuesday that the U.S. met the troop reduction plan by July 13.

“July 13, 2020 marks 135 days since the signing of the U.S.-Taliban Agreement on February 29, 2020. As stipulated in the agreement, the United States agreed to reduce its forces in Afghanistan to 8,600 and withdraw from five bases. We have met this obligation,” Hoffman said. “U.S. forces in Afghanistan remain in the mid-8,000s and five bases formerly occupied by U.S. forces have been transferred to our Afghan partners.”

The Pentagon indicated near the start of the troop reduction, that once troop levels reach the 8,600 mark, military officials would pause the reduction and assess the conditions of the Taliban peace agreement. The initial assessment was that, if peace conditions hold, the total troop reduction would take around 14 months to complete.

Now that U.S. troops have been drawn down, the Pentagon indicated the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan will focus on maintaining military capabilities, rather than specific troop numbers.

“We maintain the capabilities and authorities necessary to protect ourselves, our Allies and partners, and US national interests,” the Pentagon statement read. “We will continue to execute our counterterrorism mission while simultaneously supporting the 38-nation NATO Resolute Support Train, Advise, Assist mission and Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) as they work to secure peace in the country.”

The peace agreement and U.S. troop withdrawal was also meant to coincide with peace negotiations within Afghanistan between the Taliban and the Afghan government. That intra-Afghan peace process has seen prisoner exchanges between the two sides, but Taliban fighters have continued to attack Afghan government forces in recent months.

The U.S. has also carried out defensive strikes to deter Taliban attacks on Afghan government positions.

The Taliban peace agreement may also be undermined by new allegations that have emerged that Russian intelligence services had funneled money to the Taliban in the form of bounty payments for its militants to attack and kill U.S. troops. Since those allegations arose, many U.S. intelligence officials have questioned the underlying intelligence claim but have announced new efforts to investigate the claims and see if they can corroborate them. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley vowed the U.S. would respond if the intelligence officials find the claims to be accurate.