President Donald Trump “is preparing to announce a long-anticipated drawdown of about 4,000 troops from Afghanistan” according to White House sources who spoke to CNN, the network reported Sunday morning.
The Trump Administration has been preparing to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, sparking what the Administration hopes is the beginning of the end of the nearly two-decade-long Afghan war — the single longest foreign conflict in American history. President Trump, himself, was an outspoken critic of the war before he took office, but has waffled on whether or not to pull American troops from the region, fearing what might happen without the U.S. military providing a measure of control to a shaky Afghan government.
“In August 2017, on the advice of his generals, he reluctantly agreed to increase the number of American troops deployed in the country from 8,000 to 14,000, while admitting that his ‘original instinct was to pull out,’” the Economist reported back in September. “In December 2018 American media reported that Mr Trump had ordered the Pentagon to withdraw half of those soldiers. The White House later denied the reports and the withdrawal was never carried out.”
“We’re going down to 8,600 and then we make a determination from there as to what happens,” Trump told Fox News in August, according to CNN. “We’re bringing it down.”
But just weeks later, according to the Washington Post, Trump backtracked on his promise and explained his decision to keep troop levels in Afghanistan steady by suggesting that “millions of people could die” if the U.S. military wasn’t in place to prevent a civil war.
On Thanksgiving this year, during a surprise visit to troops serving in Afghanistan, Trump again hinted at an end to the Afghan war yet again, but that plans were contingent on the Taliban — “We’re going to stay until such time as we have a deal [with the Taliban], or we have total victory,” he said — but added that without U.S. troop presence, he could use the threat of nuclear war as a way of keeping the Afghan government in line.
Things have changed for the White House recently, however. A groundbreaking story from the Washington Post released last week, based on a leaked military inspector general’s report, gave Americans a new perspective on the war and those who both championed and led U.S. efforts in the region. According to the SIGUR documents, U.S. officials with both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama Administrations regularly misled the American people about progress in Afghanistan and failed to report the difficulties American troops were facing, even as members of the U.S. military continued to die in the Afghan war zone.
That report may have led the Trump Administration to finally declare a troop withdrawl, though sources close to the White House refused to give CNN a timeline for either the President’s announcement or the official drawdown. There are still more than 10,000 American troops in Afghanistan.
“Planning for an announcement of the troop reduction is now underway even as the US has restarted peace talks with the Taliban. The President indicated last month that the Taliban would be willing to agree to a ceasefire — a public pronouncement that caught Taliban leaders off guard,” CNN said Sunday.
Sources close to NBC News, which initially announced the drawdown, added that an American presence would remain in Afghanistan even if the U.S. military pulls out completely. Defense department officials want to keep a close eye on terror cells in the region in order to prevent groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS from moving into a power vacuum.
The Daily Beast reports that the draw-down is in line with expert advice that a presence of 8,000 to 9,000 troops in the region would be ideal.