The possibility of reducing America’s military presence in the almost 18-year Afghanistan War is on the table, the Washington Post reported Thursday, but the Pentagon is saying it’s received no orders to that effect.
The drawdown could reduce troop levels from 14,000 to between 8,000 and 9,000, U.S. officials told the Post, and would be contingent on the Taliban continuing peace talks directly with the Afghan government.
Earlier in the week, the secretary of state suggested a major troop withdrawal before the 2020 presidential election.
But the Defense Department has not been told to reduce troop levels, according to a Pentagon spokeswoman.
“Our strategy in Afghanistan is conditions-based; our troops will remain in Afghanistan at appropriate levels so long as their presence is required to safeguard U.S. interests," Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich told Military Times.
The report comes as the U.S. is in the midst of peace negotiations with the Taliban, and a week after President Trump told reporters that he would be leaning on the government of Pakistan to help smooth out a total troop withdrawal.
“I think Pakistan’s going to help us out, to extricate ourselves,” Trump said, lamenting that American troops have been acting more like “police” than war fighters.
Pakistan has been participating in the peace talks, which most recently convened in Qatar in early July ― and, according to a July 23 release from the White House, "we are going to ask them to do more.”
The United States peace envoy to Afghanistan met with Pakistan’s prime minister and other top officials ahead of his flight to Qatar for a crucial round of peace talks with the Taliban.
American soldiers first set foot in Afghanistan in late October 2001. Combat operations officially ceased in 2014, but thousands of service members have remained on the ground in a train-advise-assistant capacity, often with Army division headquarters elements rotating through.
In 2017, the Army stood up the first of six security force assistance brigades in anticipation of that ongoing mission.
So far, two SFABs have deployed to Afghanistan, but Army officials have not said when one of those deployments might replace a rotation of conventional forces ― nor has a deployment been announced to anywhere other than Afghanistan, though the units were designed with deployments to other combatant commands in mind.
The proposed drawdown would bring troop levels back to the numbers at the beginning of the Trump administration, before the president announced a new Afghanistan strategy in August 2017.