U.S. President Donald Trump wants to withdraw around 4,000 troops from Afghanistan, with an official announcement to this effect expected within days, NBC News reported on Saturday.
Quoting three current and former U.S. officials, NBC said the move would be a massive reduction to current deployment numbers, which are estimated to be between 12,000 and 13,000. While it is unclear when the withdrawal would actually begin, the timing of the decision is curious, as it follows recently resumed peace talks with the insurgent Taliban amid a months-long crisis over the presidential elections that has yet to be resolved.
State-run news agency Associated Press of Pakistan reported that U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who has been heading negotiations with the Taliban for Washington, had briefed Pakistani leaders on the official resumption of peace talks on Friday (Dec. 13). Khalilzad met Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who assured the American envoy that Islamabad would continue to support peace efforts in neighboring Afghanistan in line with the vision of P.M. Imran Khan. Khalilzad reportedly praised Pakistan’s role in facilitating the ongoing peace process.
Trump had, in August, announced that he would reduce troop numbers in Afghanistan to 8,600. The proposed withdrawal of 4,000 troops would likely bring deployed numbers close to that figure.
According to CNN, the focus of the remaining troops would be on counter-terrorism efforts against groups such as Islamic State or Al Qaeda. Additionally, the massive withdrawal would severely limit the U.S. military’s ability to train and advise local Afghan forces.
Last week, a report published in The Washington Post claimed U.S. military trainers had described Afghan security forces “as incompetent, unmotivated and rife with deserters.” The report, which said U.S. efforts had failed to improve conditions in Afghanistan, alleged no one believed Afghan forces could ever defeat the Taliban without Washington’s support.
According to the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, 64,124 Afghan security forces, 43,074 Afghan civilians, 42,100 Taliban fighters and other insurgents, 3,814 U.S. contractors, 2,300 U.S. military personnel, 1,145 NATO and coalition troops, 424 humanitarian workers and 67 journalists and media workers have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001.