US will maintain presence in Afghanistan even if deal is reached with Taliban: Trump

Reuters WASHINGTON | Updated on August 29, 2019

A file photo of US President Donald Trump   -  REUTERS

The number of troops in the country is being reduced to 8,600, he said.

President Donald Trump said on Thursday that US troop levels in Afghanistan were being reduced to 8,600, but that American forces would remain in the country even if Washington reaches an agreement with the Taliban to end the 18-year war.

“Oh yeah, you have to keep a presence,” Trump said in an interview with Fox News Radio. “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.”

Also read: The evolving peace process in Afghanistan

Trump said the US force level in Afghanistan was being reduced to 8,600 “and then we make a determination from there as to what happens”. Some 14,000 US service members are currently in Afghanistan, among whom about 5,000 are dedicated to counterinsurgency operations.

The Taliban said, on Wednesday, it was close to a “final agreement” with US officials on a deal that would see US forces withdraw from Afghanistan in exchange for a pledge that the country would not become a haven for other Islamist militant groups.

“We hope to have good news soon for our Muslim, independence-seeking nation,” Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban's political office in Doha said.

Both US and Taliban negotiators have reported progress in their talks in recent weeks, raising the prospect of an end to the conflict. Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special representative for peace in Afghanistan, was due to travel from Doha to Kabul this week for a meeting with Afghan leaders.

Ending the Afghan war

The United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and ousted its Taliban leaders after they refused to hand over members of the al Qaeda militant group behind the September 11 attack on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.

Trump has long called for an end to US involvement in Afghanistan, writing on Twitter seven years ago that the war was “a complete waste” and six years ago that “we should leave Afghanistan immediately”.

Also read: US shouldn’t exit Afghanistan in haste

Since becoming president in January 2017, he has repeatedly said he could end the Afghanistan war quickly if he didn't mind killing millions of people, a claim he repeated in the interview with Fox News Radio. “We could win that war so fast if I wanted to kill 10 million people ... which I don't. I'm not looking to kill a big portion of that country,” Trump said.

He denied the United States was acting too quickly by reducing troop levels, something he criticized his predecessor, Barack Obama, for doing in Iraq. “We have to watch Afghanistan, but we're bringing it down,” he said.

Trump warned that any attack on the United States again from Afghan territory would bring a massive response. “We will come back with a force like they've never seen before,” Trump said.


On Wednesday, the top US military officer, Marine General Joseph Dunford, told reporters that it was too early to talk about the future of US counter terrorism troops in Afghanistan.

“I honestly think it's premature to talk about what our counter terrorism presence in Afghanistan may or may not be without a better appreciation for what will the conditions (be),” said Dunford, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

He said that in the current security environment, local Afghan security forces needed US support to deal with the violence. “If an agreement happens in the future, if the security environment changes, then obviously our posture may adjust,” Dunford said.

Published on August 29, 2019

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