Pentagon chief gives go-ahead to begin troop drawdown in Afghanistan

Pentagon chief gives go-ahead to begin troop drawdown in Afghanistan
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Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Murkowski, Mattis criticism ratchets up pressure on GOP over Trump| Esper orders hundreds of active-duty troops outside DC sent home day after reversal | Iran releases US Navy veteran Michael White Black Lives Matter, protesters sue Trump admin over aggressive crowd clearing Esper orders hundreds of active-duty troops outside DC sent home day after reversal MORE on Monday said he has given the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan his approval to begin removing American forces from the country.

Esper told reporters at the Pentagon that the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Scott Miller, “has my OK, approval” to begin reducing the number of U.S. troops from 12,000 down to roughly 8,600.

“My instruction to the commander was: ‘Let’s get moving. Let’s show our full faith and effort to do that.’”

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Esper added that the drawdown would start “within 10 days.”

The United States and the Taliban on Saturday signed a historic agreement designed to eventually end the now 18-year war in Afghanistan.

Under the deal, the United States would begin the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan in exchange for assurances from the Taliban that it will not allow the country to be used by terrorists to attack America.

The U.S. plans to have its troop count down to 8,600 in 135 days, with a full withdrawal in 14 months if the Taliban lives up to its commitments.

But on Monday, a Taliban attack killed three and injured 11 at a sporting event in eastern Afghanistan, a sign that the group has not pulled back entirely despite the agreement. 

Esper said U.S. officials expect violence to “decrease over time as we move forward.”

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“This is going to be a step-by-step process and we’ll evaluate each day," he said. 

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, who spoke alongside Esper, said it’s “probably is not going to be the case” that violence in the country would “go to zero immediately.”

“I would caution everybody to think that there’s going to be an absolute cessation of violence in Afghanistan, that is probably not going to happen,” Milley said.