Unique: U.S. troop drawdowns in Afghanistan ‘not essentially’ tied to Taliban deal – Esper

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LONDON (Information) – U.S. Protection Secretary Mark Esper mentioned on Monday that any future troop drawdowns in Afghanistan have been “not essentially” linked to a take care of Taliban insurgents, suggesting some reducing of drive ranges could occur regardless of the continued peace push.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Protection Secretary Mark T. Esper delivers remarks earlier than ringing the closing NASDAQ bell for Veterans Day in New York, New York, November 11, 2019. Image taken November 11, 2019. DoD/Lisa Ferdinando/Handout by way of Information.

The remarks by Esper in an interview with Information got here on the heels of a Thanksgiving journey final week to Afghanistan by President Donald Trump, who spoke of potential troop reductions and mentioned he believed the Taliban insurgency would comply with a ceasefire within the 18-year-old conflict.

If honored by all sides, a ceasefire may result in a big discount in violence. However U.S. navy commanders would nonetheless give attention to the threats related to two different militant teams in Afghanistan: Islamic State and al Qaeda.

Esper mentioned the Trump administration had been discussing potential reductions in troop ranges for a while, each internally and with U.S. allies.

“I really feel assured that we may cut back our numbers in Afghanistan and nonetheless make sure that place doesn’t change into a protected haven for terrorists who may assault the USA,” Esper mentioned, with out providing a determine.

“And our allies agree we will make reductions as properly.”

Requested whether or not such reductions would essentially be contingent on some kind of settlement with the Taliban insurgency, Esper mentioned: “Not essentially.”

He didn’t elaborate.

There are at the moment about 13,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan in addition to hundreds of different NATO troops. U.S. officers have mentioned U.S. forces may drop to eight,600 and nonetheless perform an efficient, core counter-terrorism mission in addition to some restricted advising for Afghan forces.

A draft accord agreed in September would have withdrawn hundreds of American troops in alternate for ensures that Afghanistan wouldn’t be used as a base for militant assaults on the USA or its allies.

Nonetheless, many U.S. officers privately doubt the Taliban could possibly be relied upon to forestall al Qaeda from once more plotting assaults in opposition to the USA from Afghan soil.

Reporting by Phil Stewart, Enhancing by Rosalba O’Brien and Cynthia Osterman