Oct. 17 (UPI) — The U.S. military presence in Afghanistan will be reduced to 2,500 troops by early 2021, National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien announced on Friday.
O’Brien told the Aspen Institute in a videoconference that President Donald Trump ordered the Pentagon to initiate the drawdown.
Before reports of the reduction, Trump expressed an interest in having all troops removed by Christmas, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said the plan to reduce the troop level to 2,500 was “speculation” on O’Brien’s part.
In his address on Friday, O’Brien called the drawdown a “guarantee” according to “the order of the commander in chief,” adding that Defense Secretary Mark Esper approves of implementing the plan.
A Pentagon statement in September said between 4,000 and 5,000 troops would be in Afghanistan in November, a figure down from 8,600 in February.
The issue of troop strength has demonstrated a divide between the White House and the Pentagon. After O’Brien suggested on Oct. 7 that he supported a drawdown to 2,500 troops, Milley said the figure did not conform to ongoing negotiations.
“I think that Robert O’Brien or anyone else can speculate as they see fit. I’m not going to engage in speculation,” Milley said in an interview with NPR earlier this week.
The same day as Milley’s comments, Trump tweeted, “We should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas!”
On Friday, O’Brien said that Trump’s Christmas suggestion was more of a wish than an order.
“There’d be nothing greater than to have our troops home by Christmas,” O’Brien said. “If the conditions permit it, we’d love to get people out earlier and I think that’s the desire the president was expressing.”