US Out of Afghanistan by Christmas? No, That’s Just Presidential ‘Desire’

President Donald Trump’s national security adviser says a presidential tweet last week that all U.S. troops should be home from Afghanistan by December 25 was a “desire” rather than a military order, and he reaffirmed a plan to decrease U.S. numbers to 2,500 — not zero — by early 2021.“There would be nothing greater than to have our troops home by Christmas, but right now we’re on a path with our European allies — we went into Afghanistan together; we’re going to come out together — we’re on a path right now that looks like about 4,500 this fall and a smaller number in January and February,” national security adviser Robert O’Brien said Friday in a webinar hosted by the Aspen Institute, a nonprofit group that promotes creation of free and equitable societies through seminars and leadership development programs.FILE – National security adviser Robert O’Brien speaks to reporters outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington, May 21, 2020.O’Brien reiterated his announcement made last week that the United States was “going down to 2,500 troops” in “the early part of next year,” adding that the U.S. would love to exit earlier “if the conditions permit it.”“I think that’s the desire the president was expressing,” O’Brien said.Trump last week tweeted the U.S. would be withdrawing from Afghanistan by Christmas. The announcement via Twitter drew confused reactions among defense experts. Top officials in the Pentagon were silent on the matter for several days.We should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) FILE – U.S. troops patrol at an Afghan National Army base in Logar province, Afghanistan, Aug. 7, 2018.Defense experts have cautioned against complete foreign troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, and against reducing forces too quickly. But politicians are reflecting Americans’ declining support for the war. Last year, FILE – Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, speaks with U.S. troops while visiting Forward Operating Base Fenty in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, Sept. 9, 2019.In two interviews with VOA — one exclusive in July and one joint interview with two other reporters in September — General Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, the top military officer in charge of operations in the Middle East, said, “The Taliban have still not shown conclusively that they’re going to break with al-Qaida,” the terrorist group that launched the deadly attacks on U.S. soil on Sept. 11, 2001.“We need to be assured that ISIS [Islamic State] and al-Qaida do not have the opportunity to be hosted in Afghanistan and develop attacks against the West,” McKenzie told VOA. “Right now, it is simply unclear to me that the Taliban have taken any positive steps in that.”

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