is planning to withdraw more than 5,000 of the 14,000 US troops in Afghanistan, a US official and US media have said, in the latest sign Trump’s patience with America’s longest war is wearing thin.
On Wednesday, Trump rebuffed top advisers and decided to pull all US troops out of Syria, a decision that was swiftly followed by the on Thursday over significant policy differences with the president.
One official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said a decision had been made and verbal orders had been given to start planning for the drawdown. The official said timelines were being discussed but it could happen in weeks or months.
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It is unclear how the US – with less than 9,000 troops in – would be able to fulfil the full set of missions now underway, including training Afghan forces, advising them in the field, and conducting an air campaign against the Taliban and other militant groups.
The US almost certainly would have to curtail its missions, something that could provide an opportunity for a resurgent Taliban to expand their offensives across Afghanistan.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, often a vocal Trump ally, warned of possible danger if the drawdown went through. “The conditions in Afghanistan – at the present moment – make American troop withdrawals a high-risk strategy. If we continue on our present course we are setting in motion the loss of all our gains and paving the way toward a second 9/11,” Graham said in a statement.
Mattis had argued for maintaining a strong presence in Afghanistan to bolster diplomatic peace efforts. He resigned shortly after US officials raised the possibility that Trump would order the drawdown.
The has bewildered US allies and triggered harsh reaction from Trump’s fellow Republicans in Congress.
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The Pentagon declined to comment on Afghanistan.
Garrett Marquis, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said the White House would not comment “on future strategic developments”.
The US went to war in Afghanistan in 2001 in the wake of the attacks of 11 September, 2001, on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, seeking to oust the Taliban militants harboring Saudi-raised militant Osama bin Laden.
US officials are engaged in talks with the Taliban, who now control a significant amount of territory. The Taliban insurgency has strengthened its grip over the past three years, with the government in Kabul controlling just 56% of Afghanistan, down from 72% in 2015, a US government report showed.
Trump privately has complained about US military involvement in Afghanistan, telling an ally as recently as Wednesday words to the effect of, “What are we doing there? We’ve been there all these years.” The source, who asked to remain unidentified, said it appeared the president “has lost all patience” with a US military presence in Afghanistan.
More than 2,400 US military personnel have died in the 17-year war in Afghanistan, and Pentagon officials have repeatedly warned that a precipitous exit would allow militants to develop new plots on America.