Gen. Mark Milley won't confirm Donald Trump's Afghanistan withdrawal timeline

Gen. Mark Milley won’t confirm Donald Trump‘s Afghanistan withdrawal timeline

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley won’t back President Trump’s claim that all U.S. troops will be out of Afghanistan by Christmas, stressing that the Pentagon is trying to end the war “responsibly” but refusing to discuss specific numbers or deadlines.

In an interview with NPR that aired Monday morning, Gen. Milley — who is currently in quarantine after other top military officials tested positive for COVID-19 — said only that the U.S. remains on track to reduce its footprint in Afghanistan to 4,500 service members “very shortly.” The American withdrawal is a key part of a peace deal the Trump administration struck with the Taliban last February.

If the agreement holds and the Taliban lives up to its end of the bargain, all American forces are expected to leave the country by next summer. But Mr. Trump last week unexpectedly accelerated that timeline, declaring on Twitter that all troops are expected home “by Christmas.”

His comments came just hours after White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said the U.S. troop levels would be down to 2,500 by early next year, adding even more confusion to the situation and raising questions about whether the administration has a coherent plan.

Gen. Milley declined to clear up any of those questions.

“We have a plan, a series of responsible drawdown options that has been briefed to the president. I’m not going to go into specific numbers for the future,” he told NPR. “I think that being appropriate for me as the chairman to talk specific numbers in future operations, we typically don’t do that. … The key here is that we’re trying to end the war responsibly, deliberately, and to do it on terms that guarantee the safety of the U.S.” and its national security interests.

Asked specifically about Mr. O’Brien’s claims, Gen. Milley again would not comment on specific numbers.

“Robert O’Brien or anyone else can speculate as they see fit. I’m not going to engage in speculation,” he said. “I’m going to engage in the rigorous analysis of the situation based on the conditions and the plans that I am aware of and my conversations with the president.”

After the U.S. reached a deal with the Taliban last February, the Pentagon quickly cut the number of American troops in Afghanistan from about 12,000 to 8,500. A further drop to 4,500 is well under way.

If the deal holds, and the Taliban does not allow Afghanistan to again become a safe haven for terrorist groups such as al Qaeda, the U.S. is expected to fully leave the country by the summer of 2021.

American forces have been stationed in Afghanistan since October 2001, making it the longest war in U.S. history.

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