KABUL (Reuters) - US and NATO officials have said the number of troops in Afghanistan are down to 8,600, after a February deal between Washington and Taliban agreed to reduce American forces in the country.
A key provision of the February 29 agreement between the Taliban and the United States — to which the Afghan government was not a party — involved a US commitment to reduce its military footprint in Afghanistan from about 13,000 to 8,600 by mid-July and, conditions permitting, to zero by May 2021.
Two senior sources in Kabul said the 8,600 target was likely to be achieved by early June.
Two US officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that the United States was close to 8,600 troops and could reach that number in coming days.
“Due to COVID-19 concerns, we are moving towards that planned drawdown faster than anticipated,” one of the officials said.
The other US official said the United States had focused on quickly removing non-essential personnel and those considered to be at high risk from the virus.
All four sources asked not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter.
On Tuesday, US President Donald Trump there were “7,000-some-odd soldiers” in Afghanistan but officials clarified that number was slightly over 8,600 troops.
Trump renewed his desire for a full military withdrawal from Afghanistan but added that he had not set a target date, amid speculation he might make ending America’s longest war part of his re-election campaign.
The Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan with an iron fist from 1996 to 2001, have sought to topple the Western-backed government in Kabul. They dismiss the Kabul government as a puppet of the United States.