- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 15, 2020

The U.S. has officially met its deadline to cut the number of troops stationed in Afghanistan, the Pentagon said late Tuesday, complying with a key requirement laid out in the Trump administration’s landmark peace deal with the Taliban.

Defense Department officials say that as of July 13, the U.S. now has about 8,600 troops in Afghanistan and has turned over control of five military bases to Afghan security forces. Those steps were mandated in the 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.

“July 13, 2020 marks 135 days since the signing of the U.S.-Taliban Agreement on Feb. 29, 2020. As stipulated in the agreement, the United States agreed to reduce its forces in Afghanistan to 8,600 and withdraw from five bases. We have met this obligation,” Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement. “U.S. forces in Afghanistan remain in the mid-8,000s and five bases formerly occupied by U.S. forces have been transferred to our Afghan partners.”

“U.S. military presence in Afghanistan remains focused on capabilities — not numbers,” he said. “We maintain the capabilities and authorities necessary to protect ourselves, our allies and partners, and U.S. national interests.”

Under the agreement, the Taliban agreed to not allow Afghanistan to become a base of operations for terrorist groups, and it also agreed to halt attacks on U.S. personnel.

While the Taliban has picked up the pace of attacks against Afghan security forces, U.S. officials say there have been few, if any, direct attacks on American personnel.

The deal also called on the Taliban to begin formal peace talks with the U.S.-backed government in Kabul, though the two sides have struggled to get those negotiations under way.

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 earlier this 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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