The Trump administration intends to announce the drawdown of about 4,000 troops from Afghanistan as early next week, three current and former US officials told NBC News on Saturday.
The withdrawal will leave between 8,000 and 9,000 US troops in Afghanistan, the officials said.
The announcement would come just days after Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad rejoined diplomatic talks with the Taliban, which had broken down in September, when Trump cancelled a secret plan to fly Taliban leaders in for direct talks at the Camp David presidential retreat.
On Thursday, Ambassador Khalilzad said the US was “taking a brief pause” in talks after a Wednesday attack near Bagram Airfield killed two Afghan civilians and wounded 70 more.
The US has between 12,000 and 13,000 troops in Afghanistan now. The officials would not say when the drawdown would begin, but did characterize it as a phased withdrawal that would occur over a few months.
Two US officials said the drawdown would be a combination of troops re-deploying early and others not being replaced when they rotate out.
In a statement, a spokesman for US Forces-Afghanistan said, “U.S. Forces-Afghanistan has not received orders to reduce troop levels in Afghanistan. We remain fully committed to the Resolute Support mission and our Afghan partners, and focused on our key objective: ensuring Afghanistan is never again used as a safe haven for terrorists who threaten the United States, our allies or our interests.”
Trump has pushed for a withdrawal from Afghanistan for some time, including during his recent visit to Afghanistan on Thanksgiving, his first as commander in chief.
In 2017, Trump stressed that he intended to employ a “fight to win” strategy which would include ratcheting up the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
In response, the Taliban threatened that “If America doesn´t withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, soon Afghanistan will become another graveyard for this superpower in the 21st century.”
Trump had made clear to his advisers earlier this year that he wanted to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by the November 2020 election, according to NBC News.
The White House declined to comment.