Since President Trump said all US troops in Afghanistan would be home by Christmas, the military has kept quiet on the possible deadline. In an interview with NPR on Sunday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley avoided endorsing or rejecting Trump’s Christmas deadline and insisted withdrawal is “conditions-based.”
When asked about Trump’s comment and an earlier statement from National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, who said there will be 2,500 US troops in Afghanistan by early 2021, Milley refused to disclose information on possible future numbers. “We have a plan, a series of responsible drawdown options that has been briefed to the president. I’m not going to go into specific numbers for the future,” he said.
When the US signed a peace deal with the Taliban in February, Milley said there were about 12,000 US troops in the country, which was drawn down to about 8,500 by midsummer. Now the military is in the process of withdrawing another 4,500. Trump administration officials have said the current plan is to bring troops down to around 4,000 before the presidential election.
Milley said after the current drawdown is complete, “future drawdowns will be determined by the president. And I’m not going to disclose specific numbers and what those are.”
“The whole agreement and all of the drawdown plans are conditions-based, and I expect that we’ll have further discussions on the conditions and ensure that they warrant,” Milley said.
Some of those conditions, Milley explained, include a reduction of violence, a commitment from the Taliban to prevent groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS from gaining a foothold in Afghanistan, and progress with intra-Afghan peace talks. Talks between the Taliban and the US-backed government are ongoing in Doha.
Despite the talks, fighting continues between the warring parties. On Monday, the US announced it had launched several airstrikes on the Taliban over the past two days.
The US claims the Taliban violated the peace deal by launching an offensive on Helmand Province. For their part, the Taliban said they were reclaiming territory taken from them by the government in recent months.