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Trump: US will 'always' maintain a military presence in Afghanistan even if a deal is reached with the Taliban
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump said on Thursday that U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan were being reduced to 8,600 but that American forces would remain in the country even if Washington reaches an agreement with the Taliban to end the 18-year war.
"Oh yeah, you have to keep a presence," Trump said in an interview with Fox News radio. "We're going to keep a presence there. We're reducing that presence very substantially and we're going to always have a presence. We're going to have high intelligence."
Trump said the U.S. force level in Afghanistan was being reduced to 8,600 "and then we make a determination as to what happens." Some 14,000 U.S. service members are currently in Afghanistan, among whom about 5,000 are dedicated to counterinsurgency operations.
The Taliban said on Wednesday it was close to a "final agreement" with U.S. officials on a deal that would see U.S. forces withdraw from Afghanistan in exchange for a pledge that the country would not become a haven for other Islamist militant groups.
"We hope to have good news soon for our Muslim, independence-seeking nation," Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban's political office in Doha said.
Both U.S. and Taliban negotiators have reported progress in their talks in recent weeks, raising the prospect of an end to the conflict. Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special representative for peace in Afghanistan, was due to travel from Doha to Kabul this week for a meeting with Afghan leaders.
The United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and ousted its Taliban leaders after they refused to hand over members of the al Qaeda militant group behind the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
On Wednesday, the top U.S. military officer, Marine General Joseph Dunford, told reporters that it was too early to talk about the future of U.S. counterterrorism forces in Afghanistan.
"I'm not using the 'withdrawal' word right now," the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said at the Pentagon.
"I honestly think it's premature to talk about what our counterterrorism presence in Afghanistan may or may not be without a better appreciation for what will the conditions (be)," Dunford said.
Dunford said that in the current security environment, local Afghan security forces needed U.S. support to deal with the violence.
"If an agreement happens in the future, if the security environment changes, then obviously our posture may adjust," Dunford said.
KABUL/PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - The Taliban will implement a 10-day ceasefire with U.S. troops, a reduction in violence with Afghan forces and discussions with Afghan government officials if it reaches a deal with U.S. negotiators in talks in Doha, two sources have said.
If an agreement is sealed, it could revive hopes for a long-term solution to the conflict in Afghanistan.
The Defense Department announced on Friday that training would resume for international military students — once some additional policies and security measures were put in place.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. House of Representatives committee renewed a threat on Friday to subpoena Secretary of State Mike Pompeo if he does not provide information about Iran policy and President Donald Trump's ordering of the strike that killed an Iranian military commander.
Representative Eliot Engel, the Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he scheduled a public hearing with Pompeo for Wednesday, Jan. 29.
Pentagon dismisses idea that injuries from Iranian base attack were downplayed for 'political agenda'
THE PENTAGON — While speaking to reporters on Friday, Chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman dismissed the idea that soldiers' injuries from the Jan. 8 Iranian attack was downplayed in order to advance a "political agenda" and de-escalate the situation with Iran.