US President Donald Trump has once again insisted that he will withdraw his forces from Afghanistan; however, he did not reject a scenario in which he would keep “a smaller number” of troops in the country.
In an interview with CBS News published on Sunday, February 3, Trump said the US has been engaged in Afghanistan for 19 years, spending billions of dollars on the military.
“And by the way, I’ve been hitting very hard in Afghanistan and now we’re negotiating with the Taliban. We’ll see what happens, who knows,” Trump said in the interview.
When asked whether he will keep a smaller number of troops in Afghanistan, Trump said “yes”, but added that he will “leave intelligence” there – in Afghanistan.
“Yes. And I’ll leave intelligence there. Real intelligence, by the way. I’ll leave intelligence there and if I see nests forming, I’ll do something about it. But for us to be spending 51 billion dollars, like last year, or if you average the cost it’s- I mean you’re talking about numbers that nobody’s ever heard of before,” he said in the interview with CBS News.
Trump meanwhile said that former US Defense Secretary James Mattis resigned because he “asked him to resign”. “He resigned because I was very nice to him. But I gave him big budgets and he didn’t do well in Afghanistan. I was not happy with the job he was doing in Afghanistan,” he said.
Similar remarks were made by Trump when he addressed reporters at the Oval Office on February 1.
Reports emerged late last month that the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has sent a letter to Trump and has asked him to slow down the troop withdrawal and has suggested cutting costs for the US where possible.
According to the New York Times, the letter was confirmed by three officials and described by one who had seen its contents.
The Times reported the letter was sent to Trump on January 29 via Alice Wells, the principal deputy assistant secretary for South and Central Asia, who had been visiting Kabul.
The New York Times quoted a senior Afghan official who spoke on condition of anonymity as saying that the language of Ghani’s letter was broad — asking for teams from both sides to discuss details of where costs could be reduced, and how the troop levels could be brought down from the current 14,000 to a “more efficient level.”
The Times report stated that the official said the possibilities they had envisioned could save as much as $2 billion a year for the United States, drawing from areas such as maintenance contracts, and reducing the level of American troops to as low as 3,000.
The Wall Street Journal has also disclosed the content of Ghani letter to Trump and reported that the Afghan president has emphasized on talks between Kabul and Washington on reducing the number of US forces in Afghanistan and the continuation of their presence in the country.
Ghani has also invited Trump to visit Kabul, the Wall Street Journal said in a report on the letter.
According to the report, Ghani has said in the letter that Afghan government will remain committed in pursuing shared security and peace goals and that he is aware of the challenges in relationships and apparent changes in the US priorities and goals in the region.
The report says that Ghani said the achievements of the past one and a half decades should not be ignored in talks with the Taliban.
The remarks come amid a series of efforts at national and international levels for ending the Afghan conflict which has gripped the country for almost two decades.