U.S. aims to lower troop level in Afghanistan to 2,500 by early 2021, Trump advisor says

U.S. aims to lower troop level in Afghanistan to 2,500 by early 2021, Trump advisor says
U.S. Soldiers and Airmen from Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul return to base after a quality assurance, quality control patrol near the city of Qalat, Zabul province, Afghanistan, Nov. 1, 2010.

Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson | U.S. Air Force

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s national security advisor said Friday that the administration has set a timeline for bringing U.S. service members home from America’s longest war, but moved the goal post into early next year.

Speaking to a virtual audience at the Aspen Institute, national security advisor Robert O’Brien explained that Trump’s long-held campaign promise to bring U.S. troops home from “ridiculous endless wars” in the Middle East was in the works.

O’Brien said Trump has ordered the Pentagon to draw down to approximately 2,500 service members in Afghanistan by early 2021.

“I can guarantee that’s the order of the commander in chief,” O’Brien said, adding that Secretary of Defense Mark Esper was fully on board with Trump’s policy.

O’Brien’s comments came a week after he and Trump publicly laid out different timelines for pulling troops out of the war-weary country. Trump’s announcement, made via tweet, called for bringing U.S. service members home by Christmas.

“The troops always want to be home on Christmas,” O’Brien began when asked to clarify the varying timetables. “The president wants them home by Christmas, and what I’ve said on this and I think the president has said as well is that we’d like the troops out as soon as possible.”

Trump, who is running for reelection, campaigned in 2016 on withdrawing the U.S. military from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. His Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden has called for leaving a residual U.S. military presence as well as intelligence assets in Afghanistan.

“We need to stop spending the kind of money that we’re spending in Afghanistan,” O’Brien said, adding that it was “unsustainable for us to be in these countries forever.”

The war in Afghanistan, which has dragged on to become America’s longest conflict, began 19 years ago and has cost U.S. taxpayers $193 billion, according to a Defense Department report.

The collective wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria have cost taxpayers more than $1.57 trillion since Sept. 11, 2001, according to the same report.

Of the three current operations, Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan takes the lion’s share of costs at $193 billion.

Earlier this year, the United States brokered a peace deal with the Taliban that would usher in a permanent cease-fire and reduce the U.S. military’s footprint from approximately 13,000 to 8,600 by mid-July. And by May 2021, all foreign forces would leave the war-torn country.

“We need to get out of Afghanistan,” O’Brien said. “Ultimately Afghanistan has to be run by the Afghans and the Afghan people have to come together and come up with a solution for Afghanistan.”

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