President Donald Trump on Wednesday afternoon tweeted that the “small remaining number” of U.S. troops currently in Afghanistan will be home by Christmas.
Trump tweeted, “We should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas!”
We should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 7, 2020
In July, the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan had fallen to about 8,600 and in August, Trump and Defense Secretary Mark Esper had both indicated plans to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan below 5,000 by the end of November.
The New York Times reported earlier on Wednesday that National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien had announced U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan had already fallen below 5,000 and that the U.S. planned to reduce troop levels to about 2,500 by the early part of 2021.
“When President Trump took office, there were over 10,000 American troops in Afghanistan,” O’Brien said during an event at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “As of today, there are under 5,000, and that will go to 2,500 by early next year.”
Trump’s tweet later on Wednesday suggested an even faster timeline for the total withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan before the end of 2020.
Trump’s new estimate for ending the war in Afghanistan — 19 years after it began — comes with less than a month before the November 3 presidential election. Trump’s proposed timeline for the troop withdrawal is also faster than the withdrawal laid out in the U.S.-Taliban peace deal, signed at the end of February with a 14-month timeline for the total withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country.
The U.S. troop reduction moves come as intra-Afghan talks between representatives of the Taliban and the Afghan government began in September in Doha, Qatar.
Despite the start of peace talks, fighting between the Taliban and Afghan government has continued.
On Wednesday, U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad expressed optimism that peace talks would move forward.
“The overwhelming majority of the Afghans would like to see an end to the conflict,” Khalilzad said in a video call from Doha to a forum of the University of Chicago’s Pearson Institute, reported by AFP.
“I believe that the Taliban are quite serious about the negotiations,” Khalilzad said. “Many thought that they wouldn’t sit across the table from the Afghan government — that all they wanted was an agreement for the withdrawal of US forces. But they are now sitting across the table.”
Still, Khalilzad said the level of violence in Afghanistan is “Too high as far as we’re concerned.”
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, speaking in Doha on Tuesday, called on the Taliban to “have courage” and declare a national ceasefire.