Trump: US to keep 8,600 troops in Afghanistan after Taliban deal

President Trump said Thursday he will reduce the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to 8,600 but the U.S. will maintain a presence after a deal with the Taliban is reached in the 18-year war.

“We’re going down to 8,600, and then we’ll make a determination from there as to what happens,” Trump said in an interview on Fox News radio.

Trump stressed the need for a residual presence to prevent an attack on the United States, adding that if such an attack were to happen “we would come back with a force like they’ve seen never before.”

“Oh yeah, you have to keep a presence,” Trump said. “We’re going to keep a presence there. We’re reducing that presence very substantially, and we’re going to always have a presence. We’re going to have high intelligence.”{mosads}

Trump’s envoy for Afghan peace talks, Zalmay Khalilzad, is in Qatar seeking to put the finishing touches on a deal with the Taliban in the ninth round of talks. The Taliban said Wednesday that a deal was close.

The broad outlines of the deal would see U.S. troops withdraw in exchange for Taliban assurances that Afghanistan will not be used as a launch point for terrorist attacks against the United States.

The sticking point has been the Taliban’s refusal to engage in talks with the Afghan government, a key U.S. demand. The Taliban considers the U.S.-backed government illegitimate.

A drawdown to 8,600 troops would put U.S. troop levels at a couple hundred more than they were when Trump first took office.

Right now, the official count of U.S. troops in Afghanistan is 14,000.

U.S. troops have two missions in Afghanistan: to train, advise and assist Afghan troops in their fight against the Taliban and to conduct counterterrorism operations against groups such as ISIS and al Qaeda.

Over the weekend, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a close Trump ally and prominent GOP voice on defense issues, warned Trump not to drop below 8,600 troops in Afghanistan in order to have an effective counterterrorism force.

“To go below that I think would be really risky,” Graham said in an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

On Wednesday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford would not discuss specifics about the fate of the counterterrorism presence in a deal with the Taliban, saying it was “premature” to do so.

Still, Dunford said he supported an approach to Afghanistan that results in a “disruption to the status quo.”

“I think an agreement that can initiate inter-Afghan dialogue and potentially leading to a reduction of violence associated with the insurgency is something that’s worth trying,” he said.

Tags Donald Trump Lindsey Graham
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