Esper Says US Troop Levels in Afghanistan to Go Below 5,000 by End of November

August 9, 2020 Updated: August 9, 2020

The United States plans to cut its troop levels in Afghanistan to “a number less than 5,000” by the end of November, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in an interview broadcast on Saturday, adding detail to drawdown plans U.S. President Donald Trump announced earlier this week.

The United States currently has about 8,600 troops in Afghanistan. Trump said in an interview released Monday by Axios that the United States planned to lower that number to about 4,000.

Washington’s peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad spent more than a year and a half negotiating the deal with the Taliban to provide for the withdrawal of American soldiers after more than 19 years in Afghanistan.

The withdrawal began earlier this year. The withdrawal of the American soldiers depends on the Taliban honoring its commitment to fight against other terrorist groups and ensure Afghanistan is not again used to attack America and its allies.

“We think that we can do all the core missions, first and foremost being ensured the United States is not threatened by terrorists coming out of Afghanistan. We can do those at a lower level,” Esper told the Fox News Channel’s “Justice with Judge Jeanine” program.

The withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops is not dependent on the success of negotiations between Kabul’s political leadership and the Taliban. But U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has made it clear that Washington wants a negotiated end to the conflict, including a cease-fire.

Reuters contributed to this report