President Donald Trump said Thursday that the United States will maintain a military presence in Afghanistan, days after Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and others warned him against a full or precipitous withdrawal.
Trump made the remarks in an interview with Fox News Radio ahead of an unofficial Sept. 1 deadline for an initial troop withdrawal deal.
“We’re going to keep a presence there,” Trump told host Brian Kilmeade. “We’re reducing that presence very substantially.”
But he continued to sound a skeptical note about the benefit of maintaining a long-term troop presence, telling Kilmeade, “We’re not fighting a war over there. We’re just policemen.”
The United States and the Taliban are close to announcing an agreement on an initial U.S. troop withdrawal, along with plans to start direct discussions between the militants and the Afghan government, American and foreign officials told The Washington Post earlier this month.
Under the proposed deal, the initial withdrawal would include roughly 5,000 of the 14,000 U.S. troops in the country.
In an appearance Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Graham said that he is worried Trump will go further than that. He argued that maintaining a robust counterterrorism force is necessary because it’s “an insurance policy against another 9/11.”
“The number is going to be around 8,600,” Graham said of U.S. troop levels. “To go below that, I think, would be really risky.”
Trump confirmed Thursday that the initial withdrawal would bring the number of U.S. troops in the country down to 8,600. He added that he will leave a determination about possible further reductions to a later date.
According to the proposed deal, the Taliban would agree to renounce al-Qaeda and to bar it from activities such as fundraising, recruiting, training and operational planning in areas under Taliban control.
Graham, one of Trump’s closest allies on Capitol Hill, has repeatedly warned the president not to trust the Taliban to control al-Qaeda and other militant groups in Afghanistan. Some within the Trump administration have sent the same message.
Trump has maintained that bringing U.S. troops home from Afghanistan is his long-term priority. On Sunday, Graham said Trump and his would-be 2020 Democratic presidential rivals are “all wrong” on the issue.
On Thursday, Graham also wrote a Washington Post op-ed on the topic with former U.S. Army vice chief of staff Jack Keane, a retired general who is chairman of the Institute for the Study of War.
“We must be clear: The United States should never outsource its national security to anyone, especially the Taliban,” they wrote.
(c) 2019, The Washington Post · Felicia Sonmez, John Wagner