Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday backtracked on comments suggesting a massive U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan before the 2020 election, flatly stating “there is no deadline” for the end of the American mission there.
In response to reporters’ questions en route to a diplomatic trip to Thailand, Pompeo criticized the press for misinterpreting his earlier answers for when the nearly 18-year-old military conflict will come to a close.
“They got it wrong,” he said. “The president has been very direct about his expectations that we will reduce our operational footprint on the ground in Afghanistan just as quickly as we can get there.
“I hope they’re out not only before the next election, but before we land today.”
A day earlier, during an appearance at the Economic Club of Washington, D.C., Pompeo was asked “before the next presidential election in the United States, would you expect we reduce our troops in Afghanistan?”
He responded by saying “That's my directive from the president of the United States. He's been unambiguous. End the endless wars, draw down, reduce.”
He also added that “it's not only my expectation, it would be job enhancing.”
The comments had raised new confusion about the administration’s plan for Afghanistan, where U.S. military forces currently have about 14,000 troops deployed in train-and-advise missions.
President Donald Trump has repeated promised to end U.S. involvement in the conflict, saying he doesn’t see America’s role as “the policeman of the world.” But he has also increased the number of American service members in Afghanistan since taking office, and said that military commanders have advised him against any near-term withdrawal from the current missions.
Trump also raised concerns among Afghan allies earlier this month when he suggested that if America wanted to get out of the conflict quickly, Afghanistan “would be wiped off the face of the Earth.”
Pompeo downplayed any confusion over the messages coming from the White House.
“We will have an orderly plan for how we’re going to maintain our counter-terrorism posture in the region,” he said. “There’s really not much news here other than as each day goes by, we’re getting closer to getting an understanding from all the parties in Afghanistan about how we would deliver this better outcome...”
“That’s the mission the president has laid out, and we’re working our way there. I hope in the next handful of weeks we’ll have significant progress we can announce.”
Tuesday night the Army identified the two U.S. soldiers killed in Afghanistan in a reported insider attack Monday.
Pfc. Brandon Jay Kreischer, 20, of Stryker, Ohio, and Spc. Michael Isaiah Nance, 24, of Chicago died in Afghanistan while supporting Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.
Both soldiers were members of Company B., 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division when they were killed by small arms fire, division officials said in a release.
The paratroopers died from wounds sustained in a “combat related incident” in Tarin Kowt, Uruzgan Province, according to a Pentagon press release.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.