Afghanistan: Pentagon chief hints at drawdown of forces

By Riyaz ul Khaliq

ANKARA (AA) – Pentagon chief Mark Esper has indicated that the U.S. might drawdown its forces stationed in war-torn Afghanistan if a peace deal is reached.

On his maiden visit to Kabul on Sunday, U.S. Defense Secretary Esper told reporters accompanying him that they can “get a peace agreement at some point, a political agreement”, according to a statement on the Defense Ministry website.

“And then with regard to a withdraw of forces, as we’ve always said, that it’ll be conditions based, but we’re confident that we can go down to 8,600 without affecting our C.T. [counter-terror] operations,” Esper said.

U.S. maintains nearly 14,000 troops on ground in Afghanistan. Besides counter-terror operations, the American troops are also involved in training and advising Afghanistan’s military.

“But all that — again, we think a political agreement is always the best way forward with regard to next steps in Afghanistan,” he added.

The statement comes amid efforts by Pakistan to revive U.S.-Taliban peace talks which were abruptly halted by U.S. President Donald Trump last month.

The official U.S. Defense Secretary account tweeted a statement by Esper saying that NATO led by U.S. Gen. A.S. Miller will “ensure that Afghanistan is never again a safe haven for terrorism”.
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