Trump: US will 'always' maintain a military presence in Afghanistan even if a deal is reached with the Taliban

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U.S. Marines with Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment (2/8 Marines), Regimental Combat Team 7 conduct a mission rehearsal at Camp Leatherneck in Helmand province, Afghanistan, May 21, 2013. (U.S. Marine Corps/Cpl. Kowshon Ye)

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.

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Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney takes questions during a news briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., October 17, 2019. (Reuters/Leah Millis)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump's withholding of $391 million in military aid to Ukraine was linked to his request that the Ukrainians look into a claim — debunked as a conspiracy theory — about the 2016 U.S. election, a senior presidential aide said on Thursday, the first time the White House acknowledged such a connection.

Trump and administration officials had denied for weeks that they had demanded a "quid pro quo" - a Latin phrase meaning a favor for a favor - for delivering the U.S. aid, a key part of a controversy that has triggered an impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives against the Republican president.

But Mick Mulvaney, acting White House chief of staff, acknowledged in a briefing with reporters that the U.S. aid — already approved by Congress — was held up partly over Trump's concerns about a Democratic National Committee (DNC) computer server alleged to be in Ukraine.

"I have news for everybody: Get over it. There is going to be political influence in foreign policy," Mulvaney said.

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CEYLANPINAR, Turkey (Reuters) - Shelling could be heard at the Syrian-Turkish border on Friday morning despite a five-day ceasefire agreed between Turkey and the United States, and Washington said the deal covered only a small part of the territory Ankara aims to seize.

Reuters journalists at the border heard machine-gun fire and shelling and saw smoke rising from the Syrian border battlefield city of Ras al Ain, although the sounds of fighting had subsided by mid-morning.

The truce, announced on Thursday by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence after talks in Ankara with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, sets out a five-day pause to let the Kurdish-led SDF militia withdraw from an area controlled by Turkish forces.

The SDF said air and artillery attacks continued to target its positions and civilian targets in Ral al Ain.

"Turkey is violating the ceasefire agreement by continuing to attack the town since last night," SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali tweeted.

The Kurdish-led administration in the area said Turkish truce violations in Ras al Ain had caused casualties, without giving details.

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Sure, this sounds cringeworthy. But then there's 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Cory Booker, who appears to be, dare I say, the best boyfriend?

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The Colt Model 1911 .45 caliber semiautomatic pistol that John Browning dreamed up more than a century ago remains on of the most beloved sidearms in U.S. military history. Hell, there's a reason why Army Gen. Scott Miller, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, still rocks an M1911A1 on his hip despite the fact that the Army no longer issues them to soldiers.

But if scoring one of the Army's remaining M1911s through the Civilian Marksmanship Program isn't enough to satisfy your adoration for the classic sidearm, then Colt has something right up your alley: the Colt Model 1911 'Black Army' pistol.

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