President Donald Trump said Thursday that he is planning to withdraw thousands of US forces from Afghanistan but will keep 8,600 troops in the country, at least for the time being.
“We’re going down to 8,600 and then we make a determination from there as to what happens … we’re bringing it down,” Trump told Fox News Radio, again repeating that the US “could win that war so fast if I wanted to kill ten million people there … which I don’t.”
Trump met with top national security advisers earlier this month at his golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey, to review a US-Taliban peace plan.
The US currently has about 14,000 service members in Afghanistan, alongside NATO troops, helping to train and advise Afghan troops and conducting counterterrorism operations. The peace plan is expected to formalize a significant withdrawal of US forces after nearly 18 years of war.
But Trump stressed that the US will maintain a troop presence in Afghanistan despite the withdrawal.
“You have to keep a presence,” he said Thursday, adding that the US would be reducing troops “very substantially.”
Trump also repeated a previous talking point, calling Afghanistan the “Harvard University of Terrorism” given its “rough, mountainous terrain.”
On Wednesday, the top US general said he is “not using the ‘withdraw’ word right now” in regards to Afghanistan, as US and Taliban negotiators reportedly near a deal.
Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said any agreement with the Taliban must ensure that Afghanistan does not become a “sanctuary” for extremists. “I think it’s premature, I’m not using the ‘withdraw’ word right now,” he said. “We’re going to make sure our, that Afghanistan’s not a sanctuary.”
Dunford, who served as the commander of international forces in Afghanistan in 2013 and 2014, reiterated that any agreement with the Taliban and drawdown will be “conditions based,” adding that Trump – who campaigned on the promise to pull US troops out of the country – has been clear on that.
“It’s important to emphasize this, any agreement that we have moving forward, the President’s been very clear, is going to be conditions-based,” Dunford said. “So those conditions are what make me confident that it’s worth trying.”
CNN’s Nicole Gaouette and Ryan Browne contributed reporting