KABUL -- As the U.S. rapidly draws down forces to just 2,500 in Afghanistan by the middle of next month, acting Defense Secretary Christopher C. Miller paid a visit to the country, meeting with troops and participating in bilateral talks with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Dec. 22.
Miller, a former Army Special Forces officer who was part of the first small contingent of troops to invade Afghanistan in 2001, had not been back since 2007. In opening remarks to Ghani, he recalled having "fiery red hair" on his last deployment in the country. He expressed his condolences to the Afghan president for recent attacks and other unattributed incidents of violence, and reaffirmed the United States' commitment to the people of Afghanistan.
At a largely off-the-record lunch with troops in a variety of roles stationed in Kabul, he encouraged them that their mission was to set conditions for success.
"So I'm the guy who's drawing it down to 2,500 on the president's behalf," Miller told the group. "I firmly believe that's the right thing to do."
He added he hoped to see a peace agreement between the Taliban and Afghan government secured within the withdrawal timeline.
About 4,000 US troops now remain in Afghanistan.
A senior defense official earlier this week confirmed that the planned drawdown timeline was proceeding on track. As of late November the combined NATO forces on the group in Afghanistan, about 11,000, which includes the U.S. contingent, outweighs the total number of U.S. troops on the ground.
The Pentagon announced the current withdrawal timeline in mid-November, after the presidential election. At that time, about 4,500 U.S. troops remained in Afghanistan.