Mark Esper Says U.S. Can Reduce Forces to 8,600 During First Trip to Afghanistan
Defense Secretary Mark Esper made his first trip to Afghanistan on Sunday and announced that he believes the U.S. can cut troops stationed there down to 8,600, from 14,000—pending a peace agreement with the Taliban—without hurting the counterterrorism fight against al-Qaeda and ISIS. “The aim is to still get a peace agreement at some point, that’s the best way forward,” Esper said.
While in Afghanistan, Esper is meeting with top commanders to receive a firsthand assessment of the military’s ongoing role in America’s longest war. President Trump has said he wants to withdraw the U.S. from the 18-year war, but peace talks with the Taliban have stalled. U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalizad arranged a preliminary peace deal with the Taliban, but that deal fell through in September after Trump abruptly cancelled a secret Camp David meeting with Taliban leaders after a U.S. soldier was killed in a Kabul bombing. Trump later declared the Khalizad agreement dead.