President Trump tweeted late Wednesday that all American troops should be out of Afghanistan by Christmas, a new goal post for ending the long-running conflict that caught his own Pentagon flat-footed, the Wall Street Journal reported Thusday.
"We should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas!" Mr. Trump tweeted on the 19th anniversary of the insertion of American troops into Afghanistan in 2001.
The president's tweet on the troops on Wednesday was only one of dozens over the last 24 hours, as the president recovers from COVID-19 at the White House. He visited the Oval Office on Wednesday afternoon, and filmed a video outside in which he said he felt "perfect" and called contracting COVID-19 a "blessing in disguise."
National security adviser Robert O'Brien told an audience in Las Vegas earlier Wednesday that the number of American troops in Afghanistan would be reduced to about 2,500 by early next year.
"When President Trump took office, there were over 10,000 American troops in Afghanistan," Mr. O'Brien said in a national security speech at the law school of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "As of today, there are under 5,000 and that will go to 2,500 by early next year," Mr. O'Brien said.
Mr. Trump's tweet appeared to have trumped his own national security adviser later Wednesday by announcing a more aggressive drawdown plan.
Pentagon officials declined to comment on the announcement and referred queries to the White House, the WSJ said.
Pentagon officials have been reluctant to zero out troops in some of those conflict zones, however, citing a variety of concerns. A complete drawdown in Afghanistan, for example, could allow terrorist groups like al Qaeda or Islamic State to reconstitute and launch attacks against the American homeland or its interests abroad, commanders were quoted as saying.
There has been extensive discussion between the White House and the Pentagon in recent months over drawing forces down, and Pentagon officials recognized the president's demand to reduce forces completely. Military officials haven't yet embraced a specific plan to reduce forces to zero in Afghanistan, and first heard about the plan after the tweet, multiple officials said.
Taliban Cheer Trump's remarks
The Taliban have welcomed comments by President Donald Trump that he'd like to withdraw all remaining American forces from war-torn Afghanistan by Christmas, much quicker than the timeline laid out in a peace deal between the militant group and the U.S. the Bloomberg reported Thursday.
The militant group "welcomes this announcement and considers it a very positive step in the implementation of the agreement," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed said in an e-mailed statement. The group is seeking "good and positive relations" with all countries including the U.S., he said.
Trump's announcement comes as the Taliban and the Afghan government are holding their first direct peace talks in Doha, Qatar with the aim of ending the nearly two-decade-old war that has killed tens of thousands of people and cost the U.S. almost $1 trillion since its invasion in 200, according to the Bloomberg.
Trump's call for faster troop withdrawal took the Taliban by surprise because the February peace deal with the U.S. had set plans for all American troops to withdraw by May 2021.
Afghanistan is the site of the U.S.'s longest war, and 5,000 American troops are currently serving there. U.S. defense officials have previously said they were looking to draw down American forces to between 4,000 and 5,000 by the end of November.