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US may trim Afghan contingent by 1,000 troops

Updated February 16, 2019

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Even before any peace push-related drawdowns, the US military is expected to trim troop levels in Afghanistan as part of an efficiency drive by the new commander, a US general said on Friday, estimating the cuts may exceed 1,000 forces. — File
Even before any peace push-related drawdowns, the US military is expected to trim troop levels in Afghanistan as part of an efficiency drive by the new commander, a US general said on Friday, estimating the cuts may exceed 1,000 forces. — File

MUSCAT: Even before any peace push-related drawdowns, the US military is expected to trim troop levels in Afghanistan as part of an efficiency drive by the new commander, a US general said on Friday, estimating the cuts may exceed 1,000 forces.

US President Donald Trump told Congress this month he intended to reduce US forces from Afghanistan as negotiators make progress in talks with Taliban insurgents, saying: “Great nations do not fight endless wars.”

Army General Joseph Votel, the head of the US military’s Central Command, said the decision to reduce some of the roughly 14,000 American forces in Afghanistan was not linked to those peace efforts, however.

Instead, he said it was part of an effort by Army General Scott Miller, who took over the more than 17-year war effort in September, to make better use of US resources.

“This is something that he started as he got into the position here and was looking at how we (can) be as efficient and as effective as we can be on the ground,” Votel said in an interview during a trip to Oman.

Miller’s decision represents a reversal of sorts after years in which the US military sought to slow or halt troop drawdowns under Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, and previously lobbied for more troops under Trump.

It was unclear how far along any troop reductions might already be. The Pentagon says US troop levels in Afghanistan are at around 14,000 but adds the number can fluctuate. Other sources offered lower estimates. Diplo­matic sources believe the efficiency push, which has been raising eyebrows in Kabul, was already driving down US troop levels.

“We’re watching this very closely,” said a senior Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity. “It is clear General Miller’s desire to streamline is already having an impact on numbers.”

Asked whether Miller would likely cut more than 1,000 troops from Afghanistan under the efficiency drive, Votel said: “He probably will.” Votel added that some troops could be moved “over the horizon,” still remotely supporting the war effort from overseas. That, he said, would also reduce vulnerabilities in America’s longest war.

“This is his decision as commander here — how he most effectively uses the resources that he has and trying to be as efficient as he can be,”

Votel said, without offering a specific estimate of exactly how many troops Miller may withdraw.

Miller’s spokesman, Army Colonel Dave Butler, declined to speculate on future troop levels.

Published in Dawn, February 16th, 2019