US Secretary Defense Mark Esper speaking to reporters on Monday said that US troops numbers could be lowered in Afghanistan without a peace agreement.
“I think, again, today the best solution for Afghanistan is a political agreement. But I think we could go down to a lower number with or without that political agreement,” Esper said.
Esper stated he would like to reduce numbers in Afghanistan to “either bring those troops home, so they can refit and retrain for other missions or/and be redeployed to the Indo-Pacific to face off our greatest challenge in terms of the great power competition that's vis-a-vis China.”
Referring to Gen. Scott Miller, head of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Esper said: “The commander believes that he can conduct the all-important counter-terrorism mission and train, advise and assist so that we ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists.”
“We'll just take this a day at a time and see how things play out in the coming weeks. This is a conversation that has to be had between me and the secretary of state,” he said, adding: “We want to consult closer with our allies, but at the end of the day it will be the commander-in-chief's decision,” said Esper.
On Monday, US Senator Lindsey Graham at a Kabul press conference on Monday spoke of a possible troop reduction in the next year and offered a suitable remaining force level of “8,600” troops, which he has heard “mentioned.”
“I believe we can responsibly reduce our forces--if the number 8,600 is chosen it’s a good decision, it is not a threat to American national security, to go below that I believe would have to be substantial change—a peace agreement that’s real, that would stand the test of time,” said Graham.
The US has approximately 13,000 troops in Afghanistan and about 5,000 of them are doing counterterrorism missions. The remainder are part of NATO’s mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces.