President Donald Trump on Tuesday reiterated his commitment to bring back U.S. troops from Afghanistan after 19 years of deployment, saying American forces there had been cast into the role of police rather than soldiers.
Responding to a question about whether it was his intention to bring U.S. troops home from Afghanistan by Thanksgiving Day, Trump said, “No, I have no target. But as soon as reasonable. Over a period of time, but as soon as reasonable.”
Noting that the number of American forces in Afghanistan had dropped to below 8,000, Trump touched on the changing character of their deployment.
“We’re really not acting as soldiers; we’re acting as police. And we’re not sent over there to be policemen,” Trump said at a briefing in the Rose Garden, adding, “we’re meant to be a fighting force.”
“We’re there 19 years” Trump said, adding, “I think that’s enough.”
The president said his wish to bring American soldiers back from foreign deployments extends to other countries. He noted that, if necessary, they could always be re-deployed.
“If we have to go back, we’ll go back and we’ll go back raging. And there, we’ll go back as warriors, fighters. But right now, we’re policing. And we’re not meant to be a police force,” the president said.
Trump’s remarks follow an announcement by the Taliban and Afghanistan’s president late Saturday of a three-day cease-fire ahead of a major Islamic holiday.
The Taliban order was soon followed by an announcement via Twitter from Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announcing the government “extends the offer of peace.”
It came just days after U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad was in Kabul and Doha, urging the Taliban and the Afghan government to reduce violence and move forward with peace talks.
Intra-Afghan negotiations are a key pillar of a U.S. peace deal with the Taliban signed in February to allow American troops to leave Afghanistan. The deal was also touted at the time as Afghanistan’s best chance for peace after nearly four decades of war.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that he hoped that the temporary ceasefire would accelerate the path to peace.
“We worked hard to achieve this moment, and I hope that this respite from conflict gives Afghan people the space and security they deserve to celebrate Eid, while allowing the Taliban and the government the opportunity to take additional steps toward a peaceful future for their country,” Pompeo said.
Since signing the peace deal with the United States, the Taliban have not attacked U.S. and NATO troops but have staged numerous attacks against Afghan National Security forces.
The peace deal calls for the full withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops by the end of next year but only if the Taliban honor their commitment to fight against terrorist groups and guarantee that Afghanistan cannot be used as a staging ground of attacks against the United States and its allies.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.