The U.S. is prepared to draw down the 14,000 troops in Afghanistan to 8,000 or 9,000 as part of a peace deal with the Taliban, according to U.S. officials, CBS News' David Martin confirms. It remains unclear, however, how close the parties are to finalizing the deal.
However, the State Department said in a statement to CBS News that the presence of U.S. forces in Afghanistan is adjusted according to the conditions on the ground, and troop levels have not been adjusted "to reflect our discussions with either the Afghan government of the Taliban."
The Taliban and U.S. have been holding talks to end the 18-year-long war. After a recent round of talks with the Taliban's political leaders in July, Afghanistan envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said he hoped a final agreement could be reached by September. Should a deal be reached, the U.S. would also withdraw embassy staff and move them to posts on its Asia team.
The U.S. formally ended its Afghan combat mission in 2014, but it still provides extensive air and other support to Afghan forces battling both the Taliban and Islamic State affiliates. The Washington Post first reported the anticipated troop levels.
Curbing the violence in Afghanistan remains challenging. The Taliban has rejected calls for a cease-fire even while they are hold talks. ISIS, too, has renewed its attacks on security forces and minority Shiites. On Wednesday atore through a bus in western Afghanistan, killing at least 34 people. And days ago, in Kandahar by an Afghan soldier.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently said it was his "directive" from the president to help reduce troops in Afghanistan before the next election in 2020 during U.S. talks with the Taliban.
President Trump "[has] been unambiguous: end the endless wars, draw down, reduce. It won't just be us," Pompeo said at an event at the Economic Club. "We hope that overall the need for combat forces in the region is reduced."
David Martin, Christina Ruffini, and Margaret Brennan contributed reporting.