Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said in an interview with Fox News that aired on Saturday that the US will draw down its presence in Afghanistan to under 5,000 troops by the end of November.
“We’re going down to a number less than 5,000 by the end of November,” Esper said. Esper said the withdrawal is “conditions-based” and will only happen if the Pentagon feels it can carry on its mission in Afghanistan with a smaller troop presence.
In an interview with Axios last week, President Trump made a similar statement and said the US was going to have less than 5,000 troops in Afghanistan by Election Day.
Esper also spoke of the Afghan peace process and called it a “windy road.” The US-Taliban peace deal signed in February calls for a complete withdrawal of US forces if the Taliban lives up to its end of the agreement.
The peace deal requires the Afghan government to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners as a precondition for intra-Afghan talks. On Sunday, the Afghan government announced that it will release the remaining 400 Taliban prisoners it agreed to set free under the deal. The Taliban said they are ready to begin intra-Afghan talks once the prisoner release is complete, and those talks can start as early as next week.