The reduction has occurred despite the scuttling of peace talks with the Taliban in September. Drawing down American forces in Afghanistan was a key demand of Taliban negotiators, and President Trump has repeatedly pledged to bring U.S. troops home from “endless wars” abroad.
In a draft of a peace deal reached between U.S. and Taliban negotiators, the Trump administration said it was prepared to reduce the number of American troops to 8,600. Slightly more than 12,000 American troops are now deployed in Afghanistan.
“As we work in Afghanistan with our partners, we’re always looking to optimize the force,” Miller said. “I’m confident that we have the right capabilities to one reach our objectives as well as to continue train, advise and assist throughout the country.”
Army Col. Sonny Leggett, a U.S. military spokesman in Kabul, said the reduction was “an aggregate drop since General Miller took command” and not part of the drawdown to 8,600 American troops.
“General Miller is doing exactly what I asked all our commanders to do when I entered office,” Esper said at the news conference. “I’m asking them to look where they can free up time, money and manpower,” Esper said, so the Pentagon can focus on countering China and Russia in line with the country’s national defense strategy. He said countering terrorism and extremism “is also part of that priority list.”
Peace talks between the United States and the Taliban have not formally restarted, but the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan met with Taliban leaders in Pakistan earlier this month. The negotiators worked for more than a year to reach a deal before it was scuttled, but many officials in Kabul and Washington caution that the efforts are merely on hold.
Nearly 2,400 American troops have died in the Afghanistan since the United States intervened in 2001, and more than 20,000 have been wounded, according to the Pentagon.