WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump said on Thursday that US troop levels in Afghanistan were being reduced to 8,600 but that American forces would remain in the country even if Washington reaches an agreement with the Taliban to end the 18-year war.
“Oh yeah, you have to keep a presence,” Trump said in an interview with Fox News Radio. “We’re going to keep a presence there. We’re reducing that presence very substantially and we’re going to always have a presence. We’re going to have high intelligence.”
Trump’s comments come as U.S. and Taliban negotiators are engaged in a ninth round of talks in the Qatari capital, Doha, to seal a historic deal to end the 18-year Afghan conflict.
The United States formally ended its Afghan combat mission in 2014 but about 14,000 U.S. troops remain in the country, mainly training and advising government forces battling the Taliban and other militants. Some U.S. forces carry out counterterrorism operations.
There are currently around 14,000 US troops in the country, a number already far down from a peak of around 100,000.
The Taliban want all US troops out. But Trump underlined that there was to be no complete withdrawal, keeping a force that would provide “high intelligence.”
Both U.S. and Taliban negotiators have reported progress in their talks in recent weeks, raising the prospect of an end to the conflict.Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special representative for peace in Afghanistan, was due to travel from Doha to Kabul this week for a meeting with Afghan leaders.
Trump underlined that there was to be no complete withdrawal, keeping a force that would provide “high intelligence.” “You have to keep a presence,” he said.