President Donald Trump on Wednesday again declared his intention to “bring our soldiers back home” from Afghanistan amid reports that senior military officials are set to present a series of withdrawal plans to remove most forces there in coming months.
In an early morning Twitter post, Trump said that U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan are “acting as a police force, not the fighting force that we are.” He has issued similar public complaints about U.S. training and peacekeeping missions at various points throughout his presidency.
“After 19 years, it is time for them to police their own country,” he wrote. “Bring our soldiers back home but closely watch what is going on and strike with a thunder like never before, if necessary!”
Last week, in a similar Twitter post, Trump lamented that U.S. forces “never really fought to win” in Afghanistan and insisted he was not acting impulsively by pursuing sharp withdrawals in U.S. troop levels there. Two weeks ago, during a White House meeting on coronavirus response, Trump said that “at some point, (Afghanistan leaders) are going to have to be able to take care of their country, and they’re going to have to be able to police their country.”
On Wednesday, the New York Times reported that senior defense officials in coming days will present Trump with a series of withdrawal scenarios for troops in Afghanistan, including one to remove all personnel by this November, ahead of Election Day.
About 8,600 American military personnel are currently stationed in Afghanistan, roughly the same as when Trump took office in January 2017.
Despite repeated comments from Trump about his desire to end the nearly 19-year-old conflict, those end strengths have risen in recent years as military leaders have convinced the president of the need to support the still fledgling Afghan security forces.
The Afghan government released hundreds of Taliban prisoners Tuesday, its single largest prisoner release since the U.S. and the Taliban signed a peace deal earlier this year that spells out an exchange of detainees between the warring sides.
Earlier this week, Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman declined to discuss specific meetings with the president, but said that any reduction current troop levels will be conditions based.
Officials who spoke with the Times said they intend to advocate for slower withdrawal timelines in order to ensure the peace agreement is lasting. One of those timelines extends into May 2021.
On Tuesday, the Afghan government released hundreds of Taliban prisoners in accordance with a peace deal signed earlier this year between U.S. and Taliban officials.
Reporter Kyle Rempfer contributed to this story.