Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Saturday at the Reagan National Defense Forum said that he wants to prioritize the deployment of US forces to the Asia-Pacific region from other areas, including Afghanistan, Bloomberg news agency reported.
“What I want to do is reallocate forces,” Esper said when asked about cutting troops in Afghanistan.
He called the Indo-Pacific Command his “priority theater.” Esper said: “I’m not just looking at Afghanistan” but “all these places where I can free up troops” to bring them home or “compete with the Chinese, to reassure our allies and to conduct exercises and training.”
The US Defense Department’s strategy has shifted to confronting China and Russia and away from fighting terrorism.
“Our war-fighting advantages over strategic competitors are being challenged,” Esper said in California. “China and Russia, today’s revisionist powers, are modernizing their militaries while seeking veto power over the economic and security decisions of other nations.”
Last week, Esper said that any future troop drawdowns in Afghanistan were “not necessarily” linked to a deal with Taliban insurgents, suggesting some lowering of force levels might happen regardless of the peace talks, Reuters reported.
There are currently about 13,000 US forces in Afghanistan that are advising, training and launching counter-terrorism operations in the country.