- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 9, 2020

The U.S. will reduce the number of troops stationed in Afghanistan to under 5,000 over the next four months, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Saturday.

The Pentagon last month met its mark of slashing the number of troops stationed in the country to 8,600 as part of a U.S.-Taliban peace deal signed in late February.

The agreement said that within 135 days, the U.S. would cut its forces from roughly 13,000 to 8,600. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, which complicated American troop movements around the world, the Pentagon says it has met the deadline.

But the number of American forces stationed in the country is going to continue to fall, Mr. Esper told Fox News.

“We are going down to a number less than 5,000 before the end of November,” he said in an interview.

Although he gave little explanation, Mr. Esper said that military officials still need to provide a briefing on the plan to lawmakers and would need to ensure the “United States is not threatened by terrorists coming out of Afghanistan.”

Last week, President Trump said that he is aiming to have “anywhere from 4,000 to 5,000” U.S. troops in Afghanistan by Election Day on November 3.

The American troop drawdown also has come despite clear warnings by the Pentagon that Afghanistan remains a national security challenge.

A sweeping Pentagon report on Afghanistan security released last month found that remote areas of the country remain home to “terrorist sanctuaries” and some Taliban members routinely cooperate with extremist groups such as al Qaeda.

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