The U.S. is preparing to reduce its troops in Afghanistan from 8,600 to around 4,500 by early November after announcing the drawdown of troops in Iraq to 3,000, said the top commander of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) on Wednesday.
This is in line with U.S. President Donald Trump’s key campaign promise for a major drawdown of troops and getting America out of its “endless wars” with the presidential elections less than two months away.
“We’re on a glide slope [in Afghanistan] to be at 4,500 by the November time frame, late October, November time frame,” Marine Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, said in an interview with a small group of reporters. This would be determined by the military’s ability to get equipment out of the country, he said.
“At 4,500 we’re still going to be able to accomplish the core task that we want to accomplish, and we’ve shown more than ample goodwill in our willingness to demonstrate that we don’t want to be an occupying force in this country, but we do have strategic interests, vital interests, that compel us to be certain that these entities such as Al Qaeda and ISIS [Daesh] can’t be guests there to attack the United States,” McKenzie added.
In July, McKenzie had said that “conditions have not been fully met” for a complete withdrawal and said intra-Afghan talks would need to start for the U.S. to feel reassured about its reduced presence in the region. He had also said that while the Taliban had shown they were “no friends of ISIS” they had yet to “show conclusively” that they had broken ties with Al Qaeda.
When asked what has changed, McKenzie on Wednesday said, “It’s still my assessment that if you want to keep going down, then we need to see concrete things from the Taliban.”
This would include a true commitment to the intra-Afghan peace dialogue, a sustained reduction in violence, and a break with Al Qaeda.
But so far, McKenzie acknowledged that Taliban “has still not shown conclusively that they are going to break with Al Qaeda” and have “continued to go after the Afghan security forces.
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The announcement came on the same day Trump was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize as the only American president in the past 39 years who had not started a war or gotten involved in an armed conflict.
“End endless wars – we hear that often,” said White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany. “Not too often do we see it actually done.”
“We kept America out of new wars, and we’re bringing our troops back home,” the president told campaign supporters in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, on Tuesday night. “We’re bringing them back home from all of these faraway places.”
A White House spokesperson on Tuesday also told reporters on board Air Force One that another announcement on Afghanistan is expected in the coming days.