Pentagon Silent on Trump Tweet Calling for Full Afghan Exit by December 25

The Pentagon offered no additional details on Afghanistan Thursday, a day after President Donald Trump tweeted that all U.S. forces in the South Asian nation should return home before the end of the year.“We should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas!” Trump tweeted shortly before the vice -presidential debate Wednesday night.We should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien speaks during a news conference on Sept. 21, 2020, at the U.S. State Department in Washington, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper, right, listen.The president’s tweet drastically accelerates plans released by his national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, who said hours earlier the United States intended to reduce its troop levels in Afghanistan from 5,000 to 2,500 by early 2021.Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed a similar timeline to O’Brien in mid-September, saying the military was on pace for a full pullout by spring 2021.The U.S. and the Taliban reached an agreement in February for the U.S. to remove all of its forces from Afghanistan by mid-2021 in return for assurances by the Taliban not to allow terrorist groups to use Afghan soil for international attacks.The U.S. military is currently at around 5,000 forces in Afghanistan, as part of a planned withdrawal from 8,600 troops to 4,500 by November.“At 4,500 we’re still going to be able to accomplish the core task that we want to accomplish,” CENTCOM Commander General Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie told VOA and two other outlets in an interview last month, referring to the need to continue supporting Afghan government allies currently negotiating with the Taliban, along with conducting counterterrorism operations to ensure that “entities such as al-Qaida and ISIS can’t be guests there to attack the United States.”Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, the top U.S. commander for the Middle East, meets with troops at Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia, Jan. 29, 2019.McKenzie also has stressed in multiple interviews with VOA that the U.S. needed to be confident the Taliban would not host Islamic State and al-Qaida terrorist groups before U.S. President Donald Trump and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg participate in a round table meeting during a NATO leaders meeting, Dec. 4, 2019.When asked about Trump’s tweet, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters Thursday that the international effort in Afghanistan was a “conditions-based approach.”“We will make decisions based on the conditions on the ground, because we think it is extremely important to continue to be committed to the future of Afghanistan, because it is in our interest to preserve the long-term security of Afghanistan,” said Stoltenberg.
“We decided to go into Afghanistan together; we will make decisions on future adjustments together, and when the time is right, we will leave together,” the NATO chief added.While top U.S. military officials have remained quiet about what Trump’s tweet means, the Taliban said it considered the tweet “a positive step.”A recent Eurasia Group Foundation survey found that most Americans from both U.S. political parties support the intra-Afghan peace talks backed by the Trump administration.The nation’s longest war began in 2001 when U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.