Trump wants troops in Afghanistan back stateside by Election Day: report
Top military officials this week are reportedly set to present President Trump with several options for withdrawing all U.S. troops from Afghanistan, including a plan that would bring forces back stateside before the presidential election in November.
The New York Times reported that the defense leaders also plan to propose and press for a slower draw down, as a sped-up timeline would jeopardize the peace deal the Trump administration signed with the Taliban in February.
That deal, which committed the U.S. military to drawing down from roughly 12,000 to 8,600 troops in the country by mid-July, also lays out a full U.S. withdrawal within 14 months after its signing if the Taliban honors its counterterrorism commitments.
Pentagon officials, who have long said any further withdrawal beyond the 8,600 would be “conditions based,” worry that a plan that would pull troops by November would not incentivize the Taliban to reduce attacks, which were high in the first three months of the year.
“We’re not acting as soldiers, we’re acting as police. We’re there 19 years and, yeah, I think that’s enough,” Trump told reporters on Tuesday when asked about the report.
“We’re having very positive talks. We want to bring our soldiers back home. We want to bring them back home. And we’re not only talking about there, we’re talking about other countries also.”
Trump added that he had no target date for a total withdrawal, “but as soon as reasonable.”
Asked about the report on Tuesday, top Defense Department spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said it is still the department’s policy to have a conditions-based withdrawal but would not comment on any upcoming meeting between Trump and senior defense officials.
“I would not share with you what potential options that we would be discussing with the president,” Hoffman told reporters at the Pentagon.
“I think it’s been clear for some time that the U.S. has been looking at different options in how we are going to continue with our presence in Afghanistan.”
Trump has long pressed for an end to the Afghanistan War, but the process has been complicated by continued Taliban attacks and the inability to guarantee that the country won’t once again become a hotbed for terrorist activity against the United States once U.S. troops leave.
In the days after the peace deal was signed, for example, the Taliban announced it would no longer adhere to the reduction in violence and picked up attacks against Afghan forces.
Trump in the past has surprised the Pentagon with sudden directives, including the unexpected December 2018 order to remove troops from Syria. That move prompted the resignation of former Defense Secretary James Mattis and forced the president to walk back his plans.
Trump then in October 2019 ordered U.S. troops to withdraw from northeastern Syria – where the United States had been supporting its Kurdish allies – subsequently allowing Turkey to attack the vulnerable population that had helped the U.S. military defeat ISIS in the country.