US to cut troops in Afghanistan to ‘less than 5,000’, says US defense chief

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WASHINGTON: US Defense Secretary Mark Esper has said Washington plans to cut the number of troops in Afghanistan to “a number less than 5,000” by the end of November.

The United States currently has about 8,600 troops in Afghanistan. Trump said in an interview released Monday by Axios that the United States planned to lower that number to about 4,000.

Esper announced the lower troop levels in a Fox News interview.

In May, after President Donald Trump reiterated calls for the Pentagon to bring troops home, AFP had reported that the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan was considerably ahead of schedule.

Under a deal the US signed with the Taliban in February, the Pentagon was to bring troop levels down from about 12,000 to 8,600 by mid-July, before withdrawing all forces by May 2021.

But a senior US defence official had said the troop number was already at approximately 8,500, as commanders accelerate the withdrawal over fears of the coronavirus.

“The draw down was accelerated due to COVID-19 precautions,” the official had told AFP, noting that the departure of anyone with health concerns or over a certain age was being prioritised.

Trump had told reporters the US force level was “down to 7,000-some-odd soldiers right now”.

The next day he returned to a frequent complaint that America should not be acting as a “police force” in Afghanistan.

“After 19 years, it is time for them to police their own Country,” Trump had written on Twitter.

“Bring our soldiers back home but closely watch what is going on and strike with a thunder like never before, if necessary!”

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