U.S. President Donald Trump has told aides that he wants to pull all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan before the presidential election in November 2020, U.S. news agencies are reporting, citing unnamed current and former administration officials.
The latest reports on August 2 come after U.S. media cited unnamed sources as saying the United States is ready to withdraw a large number of troops from Afghanistan in exchange for Taliban guarantees to start direct negotiations with Kabul on ending the nearly 18-year war.
The Washington Post and CNN cited sources as saying that the number of soldiers would go down from 14,000 to 8,000-9,000 as part of a peace deal to end the conflict.
Washington has said it wants a peace deal finalized with the Taliban by September 1.
Later on August 2, NBC News reported that presidential advisers are scrambling to meet Trump’s election-year deadline to withdraw all troops.
A Pentagon spokesman declined to comment on military planning but said U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan are based on conditions on the ground.
When asked directly about troops in Afghanistan, Trump on August 2 did not cite a specific number but told reporters that "we're reducing it.”
“We've been there for 19 years. We're really serving as policemen. We could win Afghanistan in two days or three days or four days if we wanted, but I'm not looking to kill 10 million people."
The remarks echoed those made by Trump on July 22 following a meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan at the White House. Trump at the time told reporters that “If we wanted to fight a war in Afghanistan and win it, I could win that war in a week. I just don't want to kill 10 million people.”
The comments angered Afghan officials, who demanded an explanation from the White House.
The war in Afghanistan has intensified in recent weeks as both Afghan forces and Taliban militants attempt to increase their leverage in ongoing peace talks. Taliban militants now control or influence about half of Afghanistan's territory.
U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad is set to begin a fresh round of talks with the Taliban in the Qatari capital of Doha in the next few days.
He has held eight rounds of peace talks so far, with both sides saying they have made significant progress on several components of a peace deal.
Taliban negotiators, however, have refused to meet with Kabul government officials, whom they regard as U.S. puppets.
According to a report released by the United Nations on July 31, 1,366 civilians were killed and 2,446 wounded during the first six months of 2019 in Afghanistan.