The Pentagon has not received orders to draw down troops in Afghanistan despite reports that an initial withdrawal is pending as part of a proposed peace deal between the U.S. and the Taliban, officials said.
The Washington Post on Thursday said the cuts could result in 5,000 to 6,000 troops returning stateside, reducing the U.S. military footprint in Afghanistan to between 8,000 and 9,000. The deal would require additional negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government, according to the Post.
"DoD has not been ordered to draw down," Defense Department spokeswoman Navy Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich said in a statement Friday. "Our strategy in Afghanistan is conditions-based; our troops will remain in Afghanistan at appropriate levels so long as their presence is required to safeguard U.S. interests."
Earlier this week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that President Donald Trump wants a significant percentage of the troops stationed in Afghanistan to come home before the 2020 presidential election. Roughly 14,000 American troops are currently stationed there.
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Pompeo backtracked those comments Tuesday, stating there is no definitive timeline for the drawdown. He added that he hopes it occurs soon.
"The president has been very direct about his expectations that we will reduce our operational footprint on the ground in Afghanistan just as quickly as we can get there," he told reporters en route to Thailand. Pompeo was in the region this week for the ASEAN Foreign Ministers' meeting. "I hope they're out not only before the next election, but before we land today."
The possibility of a drawdown hinges on the outcome of the latest round of peace talks in Doha, Qatar, with representatives of the Taliban convened by U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, the Afghan-born U.S Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation.
In another effort to gain regional support for a negotiated settlement, Khalilzad was in Islamabad Thursday for meetings with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, whose backing would be crucial to any peace deal. The Taliban has used Pakistan's northern provinces as a base since the U.S. intervention in late 2001.
Khalilzad sent out a tweet Thursday from Islamabad stating that he briefed Khan and his top military staff on "what comes next. We discussed Pakistan's role in support of the process & additional positive steps they can take" to get concessions from the Taliban to solidify a deal.
Before leaving for Doha Friday, Khalilzad said he also discussed Khan's recent meeting at the White House with President Donald Trump.
During that July 22 meeting, Trump told reporters in the Oval Office that the conflict could be over within a week's time should the U.S. step up its pressure in Afghanistan.
"We're like policemen. We're not fighting a war. If we wanted to fight a war in Afghanistan and win it, I could win that war in a week. I just don't want to kill 10 million people," he said.
"I have plans on Afghanistan that, if I wanted to win that war, Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the Earth. ... It would be over literally in 10 days, and I don't want to go that route," Trump added. "We've been there for 19 years. It's ridiculous."
The U.S. will mark its 18th year this fall in Afghanistan, its longest war.
It has lost 15 service members in Afghanistan this year.
Earlier this week, Spc. Michael Nance, 24, of Chicago, and Pfc. Brandon Kreischer, 20, of Stryker, Ohio, were killed by small arms fire, becoming the second and third service members to die in Afghanistan in July.
Even as the peace talks continue, the Taliban has shown no signs of relenting in wide-ranging attacks that have taken a heavy toll in Afghanistan in recent weeks.
On Friday, local officials in central Daikundi province said that a Taliban attack killed at least 10 police at a checkpoint, Voice of America reported.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com