Biden Pentagon says Trump right-sized Afghanistan force, but officials won’t commit to full withdrawal

The Trump administration-set level of 2,500 American troops in Afghanistan is enough to achieve the decades-old U.S. mission there, but a full withdrawal by May is a “big if” due to Taliban violence, the Pentagon’s top spokesman said.

Gen. Austin Miller, head of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley have reviewed former President Donald Trump’s final force posture and made no new calls for additional troops, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Thursday. If they do make the determination more American personnel are required, it would be up to the new commander in chief, President Biden, to make the final call.

“We’re down to 2,500 right now,” Kirby said of the controversial troop drawdown ordered by Trump in November. “They believe that this is a sufficient number to accomplish the mission, which is largely a counterterrorism mission,” he added, noting many NATO partners also have troops in the conflict-torn country.

The retired Navy rear admiral, who already served one stint as the top Pentagon spokesman, would not firmly commit to a full withdraw by May, as called for in the peace deal the Trump administration inked with the Taliban in Doha in February 2020.

“We know that that May deadline is out there,” Kirby said. “We’re going to make our decisions in a sober, rational manner.”

He repeated a Trump administration refrain that “conditions on the ground” would determine if the United States keeps its promise to the Taliban.

In the months following the peace accord, the Taliban ramped up violent attacks against Afghan Security Forces, requiring repeated U.S. support. Despite the spiraling violence and deteriorating security situation, Trump kept to a campaign promise to end or nearly halt what he called America’s post-9/11 “endless wars.”

“It’s time to end this war,” Kirby said while noting the American commitment to assisting Afghanistan and its security forces.

The Pentagon, however, claimed the Taliban are not meeting their end of the bargain.

“The Taliban are not meeting their commitments to reduce violence and to renounce their ties to al Qaeda,” he said. “They haven’t, and they aren’t. It’s difficult to see how we get there from [where] we are now.”

Kirby added: “It’s a big if, isn’t it?”