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Once the United States and its allies agreed on the timing for the shift in the Afghanistan mission — under which American troops would step away from the lead combat role to a supporting mission focused primarily on counterterrorism and training Afghan security forces (acc

Once the United States and its allies agreed on the timing for the shift in the Afghanistan mission — under which American troops would step away from the lead combat role to a supporting mission focused primarily on counterterrorism and training Afghan security forces (according to the 2012 NATO Chicago Summit this shift is planned for the middle of 2013 (see section above) — the Obama administration must decide exactly when the remaining 68,000 troops will come home according to the New York Times.[123] In September 2012 the United States withdrew then the last of the 33,000 "surge" forces from Afghanistan that Obama ordered in West Point 2009 to try to bring the Afghanistan war under control. With the reduction over the next two years of the remaining 68,000 American troops, the top American and NATO commander in Afghanistan would lead a force that is to operate from fewer bases and will train Afghan forces to take the lead in combat.[124]

The number of US troops to remain in Afghanistan during 2013 was still being decided as of March 2012, but it appeared that three options were considered. These three options were:[123]

  1. A drawdown from 68,000 to 58,000 troops by the end of 2012, with a further drawdown to between 38,000 and 48,000 by June 2013. This would be a continuation of the current policy of gradual drawdown. Obama has stated that he prefers a gradual drawdown.[123]According to two American officials who are involved in Afghan issues said that the senior American commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen wanted to keep a significant military capability through the fighting season ending in fall 2013, which could translate to a force of more than 60,000 troops until the end of that period.[126] The United States has not "begun considering any specific recommendations for troop numbers in 2013 and 2014," said George Little, the Pentagon spokesman. "What is true is that in June 2011 the president made clear that our forces would continue to come home at a steady pace as we transition to an Afghan lead for security. That it still the case."[126]

    During the 2013 State of the Union Address, Obama said that the U.S. military will reduce the troop level in Afghanistan from 68,000 to 34,000 US troops by February 2014.[127][128][129][130] According to an unnamed U.S. official Obama made his decision "based on the recommendations of the military and his national security team," consultations with Karzai and "international coalition partners."[130] The United States has adopted a withdrawal schedule which U.S. General John. R. Allen called a "phased approach."[128] According to the new withdrawal schedule, as reported by the New York Times, the number of troops is to go down from 66,000 troops to 60,500 by the end of May 2013. By the end of Novemb

    During the 2013 State of the Union Address, Obama said that the U.S. military will reduce the troop level in Afghanistan from 68,000 to 34,000 US troops by February 2014.[127][128][129][130] According to an unnamed U.S. official Obama made his decision "based on the recommendations of the military and his national security team," consultations with Karzai and "international coalition partners."[130] The United States has adopted a withdrawal schedule which U.S. General John. R. Allen called a "phased approach."[128] According to the new withdrawal schedule, as reported by the New York Times, the number of troops is to go down from 66,000 troops to 60,500 by the end of May 2013. By the end of November 2013, the number will be down to 52,000. By the end of February 2014, the troop level is to be around 32,000.[128][needs update] The Washington Post reported a slightly different withdrawal plan which calls for the U.S. forces figure of 68,000 troops to drop to about 60,000 by May 2013 and 52,500 by November 2013. The largest exodus will occur in December 2013 and January 2014, when about 18,500 troops will leave Afghanistan.[127] The White House intended to allow the military to determine the pace at which the 34,000 troops are withdrawn over the 12 months until February 2013. Top U.S. military officers have said they hope to keep as many forces as possible in Afghanistan through summer 2013, when combat with the Taliban is usually at its highest.[127] "Commanders will have discretion on pace of this drawdown which will allow them to maintain the force they need through the fighting season," according to one U.S. official.[130] The drawdown announcement generated mixed reactions in Afghanistan: While Afghan officials like Karzai and the Taliban welcomed Obama's decision, many Afghans worried that a quick drawdown will destabilize the country. Afghans also expressed their concern that Afghan security forces were not ready to take the lead for security.[131][132]

    As of September 2013 the U.S. military is flying out a large amount of gear instead of using cheaper overland and sea routes, while U.S. officials declined to elaborate on the reasons for their heavy reliance on the more expensive methods of transport.[133]

    The US force level will drop to between 10,000 and 20,000 troops according to the Long War Journal. They will consist of Special Forces, counterterrorism forces, and military training personnel. They will be deployed to a small number of bases around the country. US/ISAF troops will continue their training of Afghan National Security Forces soldiers. Counterterrorism forces will concentrate mostly on high-value targets.[125] U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta stated on 12 November 2012 that the Obama Administration will cease combat operations by the end of 2014, but it is still refining its timeline for withdrawing the remaining 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The administration was also debating how many trainers, Special Operations forces and military assets it will keep in the country after that to support Afghanistan's army and police.[134]

    During a surprise trip to Afghanistan in May 2014 Obama stated that the United States wanted to sign a bilateral security agreement with Afghanistan for the purpose of continuing training/advising Afghan forces and assisting in specific counterterrorism missions. The winner of Afghanistan's presidential runoff election — between former Afghan foreign minister

    During a surprise trip to Afghanistan in May 2014 Obama stated that the United States wanted to sign a bilateral security agreement with Afghanistan for the purpose of continuing training/advising Afghan forces and assisting in specific counterterrorism missions. The winner of Afghanistan's presidential runoff election — between former Afghan foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah and onetime World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani — will be asked immediately to sign the security agreement that will help determine how many U.S. forces, as of May 2014 numbering 32,000, will remain in Afghanistan after the end of the year 2014. U.S. officials said the security agreement must be endorsed as soon as possible to give U.S. military planners time to complete drawdown schedules — including decisions on what bases to close — and make arrangements for the next phase of the U.S. military presence after nearly 13 years of war.[135][136] Pentagon general counsel Stephen Preston said in May 2014 before the U.S. Senate that the 2014 drawdown planning and the post 2014 presence planning will concentrate on "what the circumstances, the mission and presence in Afghanistan will be."[137]

    On 27 May 2014, Obama announced that U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan would end in December 2014 and that the troops levels will be reduced to 9,800 troops by this time.[138]

    On 5 August 2014, a gunman dressed in an Afghan military uniform opened fire on a number of U.S., foreign and Afghan soldiers, killing Major General Harold J. Greene and wounding about 15 officers and soldiers including a German brigadier general and eight U.S. soldiers. For the U.S. Armed Forces, it was the first death of a general on foreign battlefields in 44 years.[139]

    After 13 years Britain, the United States and the remaining Australians officially ended their combat operation in Afghanistan on 28 October 2014. On that day Britain handed over its last base in Afghanistan, Camp Bastion in the southern province of Helmand, to Afghanistan, while the United States handed over its last base, Camp Leatherneck in the southern province of Helmand.[140][141][142][143][144][145]

    During the 2012 Chicago Summit NATO and its partners agreed to withdraw its combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.[57] A new and different NATO mission will then advise, train and assist the Afghan security forces including the Afghan Special Operations Forces.[58][60] Final decisions on the size of the American and NATO presence after 2014 and its precise configuration have not been made by the United States or its NATO allies as of 26 November 2012, but one option calls for about 10,000 American and several thousand non-American NATO troops according to the United States.[126] The presence shall include a small American counterterrorism force consisting of fewer than 1,000 American troops, while in a parallel effort, NATO forces would advise Afghan forces at major regional military and police headquarters. According to the New York Times, NATO forces would most likely have a minimal battlefield role, with the exception of some special operations advisers.[126]

    An important question for the NATO mission after 2014 was what level of the Afghan military hierarchy they would advise. It was generally expected that they would advise seven regional Afghan Army corps and several regional Afghan police headquarters. The arrangement would largely insulate the NATO advisers from the battlefield, though officials said advisers might accompany Afghan brigades on major operations. It was unlikely that NATO officers would advise Afghan battalions on the battlefield, because that would require many more advisers than NATO was likely to muster and would entail more risk than most nations seem prepared to assume, though some American experts believed it would make the Afghan military more effective. Still, NATO special operations advisers would be likely to accompany Afghan Army

    An important question for the NATO mission after 2014 was what level of the Afghan military hierarchy they would advise. It was generally expected that they would advise seven regional Afghan Army corps and several regional Afghan police headquarters. The arrangement would largely insulate the NATO advisers from the battlefield, though officials said advisers might accompany Afghan brigades on major operations. It was unlikely that NATO officers would advise Afghan battalions on the battlefield, because that would require many more advisers than NATO was likely to muster and would entail more risk than most nations seem prepared to assume, though some American experts believed it would make the Afghan military more effective. Still, NATO special operations advisers would be likely to accompany Afghan Army commandos and police SWAT-type units on the battlefield.[126]

    A major challenge was that Afghanistan would not have an effective air force before 2017, if then. As a consequence American officials said that NATO airpower would remain in Afghanistan after 2014 but will likely only be used on behalf of NATO and American troops and perhaps Afghan units that are accompanied by NATO advisers. NATO forces relied heavily on airpower for airstrikes, supply and medical evacuation since Afghanistan's roads are in poor condition and often seeded with bombs. To compensate for Afghanistan's limited airpower, the United States was working on a number of fixes, including providing Afghan forces with armored vehicles that would be equipped with mortars and assault guns. The United States was looking into expanding the purchase of turboprop planes for the Afghans. In addition the U.S. was also trying to help Afghan pilots learn to fly at night.[126] Equally troubling was according to the New York Times the problem of medical evacuations. Because after 2014 the Afghans would almost certainly need to rely on a system that depended more on ground transportation than helicopters the United States wanted to help Afghanistan forces develop more field hospitals.[126]

    Plans for the follow-on military presence are being formulated in the Pentagon, where the largest of several preliminary options calls for about 10,000 troops, with several other NATO governments penciled in for several hundred each. According to these preliminary plans, ISAF's successor would be based in Kabul, with most U.S. training and counterterrorism troops probably stationed in Kandahar and at the air base at Bagram. Both locations are to be converted to Afghan ownership. Smaller counterterrorism units of the Joint Special Operations Command would be positioned primarily in the eastern part of the country, where most of their activities take place. Italy, in charge of the ISAF mission in Herat in western Afghanistan, would remain there to train Afghans. Germany would do the same in Mazar-e Sharif in the north. It is unclear what would happen at Camp Bastion, the British headquarters in Helmand province.[146]

    The size of the American military presence after 2014 will help determine the size of the American civilian footprint. As of December 2012 the United States are reducing its plans for large civilian force in post-2014 Afghanistan, because the U.S. military is certain to curtail or stop the security and other services it provides U.S. government civilians in Afghanistan.[146] Firm decisions on civilian numbers and locations cannot be made "until we resolve exactly what the military follow-on numbers are going to be," one unnamed U.S. official said. "That will determine . . . where we locate, what kind of security, medical and other support we might be able to get."[146] According to the New York Times the U.S. military wants to retain 9,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, while the Obama administration wants a force of 3,000 to 9,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014.[147]

    During a meeting with Karzai on 11 January 2013, Obama stated that he will determine the pace of U.S. combat troops drawdown and their withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 after consultations with commanders on the ground.[148] He also said any U.S. mission in Afghanistan beyond 2014 would focus solely on counterterrorism operations and training Afghan security forces.[148][149] According to Obama any agreement on troop withdrawals must include an immunity agreement in which US troops are not subjected to Afghan law.[150] "I can go to the Afghan people and argue for immunity for U.S. troops in Afghanistan in a way that Afghan sovereignty will not be compromised, in a way that Afghan law will not be compromised," Karzai replied.[151]

    During his 2013 State of the Union Address Barack Obama announced that 34,000 US troops will leave Afghanistan by February 2014, but did not specify what the post-2014 troop levels would be. "Beyond 2014, America's commitment to a unified and sovereign Afghanistan will endure, but the nature of our commitment will change," Obama said.[129] "We're negotiating an agreement with the Afghan government that focuses on two missions – training and equipping Afghan forces so that the country does not again slip into chaos, and counter-terrorism efforts that allow us to pursue the remnants of al-Qaeda and their affiliates," he added.[129] As of 12 February 2013, Barack Obama has not made a decision on the post-2014 U.S. force.[128] The Obama Administration intends to keep some troops in the country in 2015 and beyond, but the number is still being debated at the White House and must be approved by the Afghan government.[127] Unnamed U.S. officials said there was a reluctance to go public with a final number of troops and a description of their missions while still in the early stage of negotiating a security agreement with the Afghans over retaining a U.S. military presence after 2014.[128] The New York Times reported that the post-2014 force is likely to number no more than 9,000 or so troops and then get progressively smaller.[128] The Washington Post reported that the Pentagon is pushing a plan that would keep about 8,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2015, but significantly shrink the contingent over the following two years, perhaps to fewer than 1,000 by 2017, according to senior U.S. government officials and military officers.[127] As the result of the suspension of the bilateral security agreement discussions and increasingly frustrated by his dealings with Karzai, Obama was giving in early July 2013 serious consideration to speeding up the withdrawal of United States forces from Afghanistan and to a "zero option" that would leave no American troops there after 2014.[92] At the end of 2013 the United States backed away from its threat to initiate a complete American withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, if Karzai refuses to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement by the end of 2013. However the United States stood by its warning that a total military withdrawal is still possible if delays continue.[152][153] The U.S. Department of Defense proposed to Obama to leave behind 10,000 US troops when their combat mission and that of their allies end there at the end of 2014, or none at all.[153] Caitlin M. Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said that absent an agreement with respect to the B.S.A. between the America and Afghanistan the U.S.A. "will initiate planning for a post-2014 future in which there would be no U.S. or NATO troop presence in Afghanistan.",[153] while the British Ministry of Defense said that until the pact is signed, no decision will be made on the contribution from other nations.[154]

    By May 2014 no agreement on the bilateral security agreement had been reached. Obama on a trip to Afghanistan in late May 2014 said he was about to make decisions on the transition and was in the country to meet with Afghanistan's leaders prior to making those decisions final.[155] On 27 May 2014, Obama announced that U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan would end in December 2014.[156][157] A residual force of 9,800 troops would remain in the country which includes a group of troops to train and advise Afghan security forces and a separate group of Special Operations forces to continue counterterrorism missions against remnants of al-Qaeda.[158][159] These forces would be halved by the end of 2015, and consolidated at Bagram Air Base and in Kabul. Obama also announced that all U.S. forces, with the exception of a "normal embassy presence," would be removed from Afghanistan by the end of 2016.[138] These remaining forces would be a regular armed forces assistance group, largely to handle military sales under the authority of the U.S. ambassador,[158] but also guard the US embassy, train Afghan forces and support counter-terrorism operations.[157] These troop will not exceed 1,000 troops, akin to the security presence that is currently as of May 2014 in Iraq.[159] The president's plans were subject to the approval of the incoming Afghan government and its willingness to sign the bilateral security agreement providing immunity for U.S. troops serving in the country, which outgoing president Karzai had refused to sign.[160][161][162] The U.S. post 2014 presence plans were welcomed by outgoing Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai saying that Afghanistan was ready to take responsibility for its own security and the move could pave the way for Taliban peace talks.[163] While Afghanistan military forces reacted to Obama's plans with skepticism arguing among other things that Afghan military's lack of air support and heavy artillery couldn't be overcome by 2016 or 2017 and NATO welcomed the announcement, U.S. politicians split along party lines to Obama's drawdown and post 2014 presence plans, Afghanistan lawmakers considered those plans a blow to Afghan morale and American think tanks questioned the post presence limitation to the end of 2016 pointing out to experience in Germany, Britain, Korea and Japan, where U.S. forces remain long after wars have ended but the need to support strong allies remains.[138][156][158][159]

    Afghanistan and the United States signed the bilateral security agreement through U.S. Ambassador James B. Cunningham and Afghan national security adviser Mohammad Hanif the bilateral security agreement on 30 September 2014 in a cordial ceremony at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan.[164][165][166] On that day the NATO Status of Forces Agreement was also signed, giving forces from Allied and partner countries the legal protections necessary to carry out the NATO Resolute Support Mission when International Security Assistance Force comes to an end in 2014.[167] Under both agreements 9,800 American and at least 2,000 NATO troops are allowed to remain in Afghanistan after the international combat mission formally ends on 31 December 2014[164] while also enabling the continued training and advising of Afghan security forces, as well as counterterrorism operations against remnants of al-Qaeda.[165] Most of the troops will help train and assist the struggling Afghan security forces, although some American Special Operations forces will remain to conduct counterterrorism missions.[164] The Nato-led ISAF mission will transition to a training mission headquartered in Kabul with six bases around the country.[164] Under the BSA the United States are allowed to have bases at nine separate locations across Afghanistan.[165] A base in Jalalabad, in eastern Afghanistan, could also remain a launching point for armed drone missions in Afghanistan and across the border in Pakistan.[164][165] The agreement also prevents U.S. military personnel from being prosecuted under Afghan laws for any crimes they may commit; instead, the United States has jurisdiction over any criminal proceedings or disciplinary action involving its troops inside the country. The provision does not apply to civilian contractors.[165] The troop number of 9.800 Americans is to be cut in half by 2016, with American forces thereafter based only in Kabul and at Bagram air base. By the end of 2017, the U.S. force is to be further reduced in size to what U.S. officials have called a "normal" military advisory component at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, most likely numbering several hundred.[165] The BSA goes into force on 1 January 2015 and remains in force "until the end of 2024 and beyond" unless it is terminated by either side with two years' notice.[168]

    In November 2014 U.S. President Obama expanded the original role of U.S. Armed Forces in Afghanistan for 2015. Originally they were supposed to advise, train and assist the Afghan Forces and to hunt the remnants of Al Qaeda. Under the president's order U.S. forces can carry out missions against the Taliban and other militant groups threatening American troops or the Afghan government while American jets, bombers and drones can support Afghan troops on combat missions. By the end of 2015, half of the 9,800 American troops would leave Afghanistan. The rest would be consolidated in Kabul and Bagram, and then leave by the end of 2016, allowing Obama to say he ended the Afghan war before leaving office. The United States could still have military advisers in Kabul after 2016 who would work out of an office of security cooperation at the United States Embassy. But the Obama administration has not said how large that contingent might be and what its exact mission would be.[169]

    During his last trip to Afghanistan U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced on 6 December 2014 the end of the U.S. original plan to withdraw its troops form Afghanistan. Under a plan announced in May 2014 the number of American troops was supposed to fall to 9,800 by 1 January 2015. Instead the U.S. will keep up to 10,800 troops for the first few months of 2015 and then restart the drawdown, which is scheduled to reach 5,500 troops by the end of 2015. Besides partaking in NATO's Resolute Support Mission consisting of 12,500 soldiers[170] some U.S. troops will take part in a separate counterterrorism mission focused on al-Qaeda. By the time U.S. President Obama leaves office in 2017 only a small force attached to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul is to remain in Afghanistan. The reason for the United States to keep additional forces in the country temporarily was that planned troop commitments by US allies for the NATO train-and-assist mission starting in January 2015 have been slow to materialize. President Barack Obama "has provided US military commanders the flexibility to manage any temporary force shortfall that we might experience for a few months as we allow for coalition troops to arrive in theater," Hagel said in a news conference with President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul. "But the president's authorization will not change our troops' missions, or the long-term timeline for our drawdown," he added.[171][172][173]

    At the end of March 2015 U.S. President Obama announced to slow the pace of the U.S. troop withdrawal by maintaining the current force levels of 9,800 troops through at least the end of 2015. This announcement came after a request by the Afghan government under its new president Ashraf Ghani. Obama and Ghani stated the troops were needed to train and advise Afghan forces. According to U.S. official keeping the current force in place would allow American special operations troops and the Central Intelligence Agency to operate in southern and eastern Afghanistan, where the insurgents are strongest and where Al Qaeda's presence is concentrated. Obama also stated to close the remaining U.S. bases in Afghanistan, to withdraw all but about 1,000 troops by the time he leaves office at the beginning of 2017 consolidate the remaining U.S. forces in Kabul. Those forces would operate largely in Kabul and protect embassy personnel and other American officials there.[174][175][176][177] NATO has maintained 13,000 troops including 9,800 Americans in an advisory and counter-terrorism capacity in Afghanistan during the 2015 phase of the War in Afghanistan.[168]

    In the wake of the Taliban's capture of Kundus during the Battle of Kunduz and following a US review of its troop presence in Afghanistan U.S. President Obama stated on 15 October 2015 that Afghan security forces are not as strong as they should be and that the security situation in Afghanistan is still very fragile with risks to deteriorate in some parts of the country. For these reasons Obama announced a new $15 billion-a-year plan: The U.S. will maintain its current force of 9,800 through most of 2016, then begin drawing down to 5,500 late in the year or in early 2017.[178][179] The US forces will be stationed in four garrisons: Kabul, Bagram, Jalalabad and Kandahar.[178][180] The post-2016 force will still be focused on training and advising the Afghan army, with a special emphasis on its elite counter-terrorism forces. The United States will also maintain a significant counter-terrorism capability of drones and Special Operations forces to strike al-Qaeda, forces of the Islamic State, and other militants who may be plotting attacks against the United States.[178] U.S. counter-terrorism forces deployed at bases in Kandahar and Jalalabad and the Bagram air base outside Kabul will be able to target al-Qaeda forces and forces of the Islamic State, while U.S. advisers can continue to work with key Afghan units, such as air and Special Operations forces, to blunt Taliban attacks.[181]

    During a press conference on 6 July 2016 U.S. President Obama said he would draw down troops to 8,400 by the end of his administration in December 2016.[4][182][183] He said the troops remaining in Afghanistan would continue to be focused on training and advising the Afghan military and engaging in counter-terrorism efforts.[184] The president warned that a deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan could overwhelm Afghan government partners without further assistance. "It's in our national interest – after all the blood and treasure we have invested – that we give our Afghan partners the support to succeed," said Obama.[185] "This is where al-Qaida is trying to regroup, where Isil is trying to expand its presence," he added. "If they succeed, they will attempt more attacks against us."[185]

    In the summer of 2017, with 8,400 U.S. troops already authorized,[186] U.S. President Donald Trump gave the U.S. military decision-making authority to increase troop numbers for U.S. military operations in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan without first seeking formal agreement from the White House.[187][188] U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis praised the new authority: "This assures the department can facilitate our missions and nimbly align our commitment to the situation on the ground. Our overall mission in Afghanistan remains the same, to train, advise and assist the Afghan forces so they can safeguard the Afghan people and terrorists can find no haven in Afghanistan for attacking us or others."[189] The broad outlines of the Afghanistan strategy, in place since April 2017, were described as "an increase in special operations forces to train, advise and assist Afghan forces; a more robust plan to go after elements in Pakistan that aid the Taliban; the deployment of more air power and artillery; and a political commitment to the survival of the current government in Kabul".[190]

    On 21 August 2017, Trump unveiled his strategy for Afghanistan and the broader South Asia, but he didn't specify the number of troops to be committed nor the conditions by which success could be judged.[191] Instead, conditions on the ground would determine troop levels and strategy.On 21 August 2017, Trump unveiled his strategy for Afghanistan and the broader South Asia, but he didn't specify the number of troops to be committed nor the conditions by which success could be judged.[191] Instead, conditions on the ground would determine troop levels and strategy.[192] This was confirmed on 24 August 2017 by the military commander for United States and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General John W. Nicholson, who described the new strategy in Afghanistan as defining success by conditions on the ground and not "arbitrary timelines."[193] U.S. President Trump said in his 21 August 2017 speech that "victory will have a clear definition: attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing al-Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over the country, and stopping mass terror attacks against Americans before they emerge."[192] An additional 4,000 troops beyond the 8,500 U.S. service members already in the region were to be deployed.[192]

    On 30 August 2017 the Pentagon disclosed that there were more troops in Afghanistan than previously acknowledged. The Pentagon said previously that there were 8,400 troops in Afghanistan, but in reality the actual "total force" number was closer to 11,000.[194][195] The lower number was based on misleading accounting measures and red tape.[196] The new count used by the United States Department of Defense includes covert as well as temporary units.[195] The Washington Post reported on 30 August 2017 that the additional U.S. forces for Afghanistan will likely include paratroopers as well as small Marine artillery detachments, composed of about 100 or so troops per unit, which will be spread around the country to fill in gaps in air support.[196] The report by the Washington Post also reported that more air support — in the form of more F-16 fighters, A-10 ground attack aircraft and additional B-52 bomber support, or a combination of all three – will likely be used in Afghanistan.[196] The newspaper also stated: "The additional U.S. forces will allow Americans to advise Afghan troops in more locations and closer to the fighting, U.S. officials in Kabul said [ ... ]. With more units farther away from the country's biggest bases, additional air support and artillery will be needed to cover those forces."[196] And the New York Times added that: "the American military will be able to advise select Afghan brigades in the field instead of trying to mentor them from more distant headquarters. They can step up the effort to train special operations forces and, thus, substantially increase the number of Afghan commandos. This will allow American war commanders and service members to call in air and artillery strikes on behalf of more Afghan units."[195]

    In September 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump started returning troops to Afghanistan[197] U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis confirmed on 18 September 2017 that 3,000 additional U.S. troops would be sent to Afghanistan, bringing the total number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan to more than 14,000 and bolstering the Afghan military in its fight against the Taliban, al Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.[198][199][200][201]

    When Gen. Austin “Scott” Miller took command in Afghanistan in 2018, there were 15,000 U.S. troops there. In October 2019, Miller announced that this number had already been reduced to 13,000 as a result of a unilateral decision by the US.[5]

    In December 2019, the Afghanistan Papers revealed that high-ranking military and government officials were generally of the opinion that the war in Afghanistan was unwinnable, but kept this hidden from the public.[202][203]

    On 29 February 2020, the U.S. signed an agreement with the Taliban to withdraw troops in 14 months if the Taliban uphold the terms of the agreement. As of February 2020 about 13,000 American troops were still in the country. The two sides agreed a gradual, conditions-based withdrawal over 14 months and the withdrawal agreement encompasses "all military forces of the United States, its allies, and Coalition partners, including all non-diplomatic civilian personnel, private security contractors, trainers, advisors, and supporting services personnel.". In the first phase the U.S. will initially reduce its forces in Afghanistan by about 5,000 troops to 8,600 within 135 days of the U.S.-Taliban agreement. During the gradual withdrawal, the Taliban and the Afghan government would have to work out a more concrete power-sharing settlement. That time frame would give the government the cover of American military protection while negotiating. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the remaining U.S. troops will serve as leverage to ensure the Taliban lives up to its promises. If the Taliban fulfills its commitments to renounce al Qaeda and begin intra-Afghan peace talks, the U.S. agreed to a complete withdrawal of all remaining American forces from Afghanistan within 10 months.[204][205][206][207][208][209] The United States and its NATO allies have agreed to withdraw all troops within 14 months if the militants uphold the deal.[210]

    On 1 March 2020, however, the peace agreement hit a major snag when President Ghani stated during a press conference that the Afghan government, which was not a party to the deal, would reject the deal's call for conducting a prisoner exchange with the Taliban by the proposed start of intra-Afghan negotiations on 10 March 2020, even stating that "The government of Afghanistan has made no commitment to free 5,000 Taliban prisoners," "an agreement that is signed behind closed doors will have basic problems in its implementation tomorrow," "The release of prisoners is not the United States authority, but it is the authority of the government of Afghanistan."[211][212][213][214] Ghani also stated that any prisoner exchange "cannot be a prerequisite for talks," but must be a part of the negotiations.[210]

    Some U.S. troops withdrew from Afghanistan on 9 March 2020 as required in the U.S.-Taliban peace agreement.[215][216] On 10 March 2020 U.S. Central Command rejected reports that the U.S. military had developed a plan to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan. But CENTCOM chief Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. also stated that the plan is to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to 8,600 in a 14-month period.[217] However, the U.S. Army later confirmed that more troops will be sent to Afghanistan in the summer of 2020.[218]

    According to CENTCOM, by 18 June, the U.S. had reduced its Afghan troop numbers to 8,600 in accordance with the February 2020 Taliban peace deal.[219] However, on 1 July, following media re

    Some U.S. troops withdrew from Afghanistan on 9 March 2020 as required in the U.S.-Taliban peace agreement.[215][216] On 10 March 2020 U.S. Central Command rejected reports that the U.S. military had developed a plan to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan. But CENTCOM chief Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. also stated that the plan is to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to 8,600 in a 14-month period.[217] However, the U.S. Army later confirmed that more troops will be sent to Afghanistan in the summer of 2020.[218]

    According to CENTCOM, by 18 June, the U.S. had reduced its Afghan troop numbers to 8,600 in accordance with the February 2020 Taliban peace deal.[219] However, on 1 July, following media reports of Taliban participation in an alleged Russian bounty program to target U.S. troops, the U.S. House Armed Services Committee voted for a National Defense Authorization Act amendment to set additional conditions to be met before President Trump could continue the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, including requiring an assessment on whether any country has offered incentives for the Taliban to attack U.S. and coalition troops along with prohibiting funding to reduce troop numbers to below 8,000 and again at 4,000 unless the administration certifies that doing so would not compromise American interests in Afghanistan.[220][221]

    On 1 July 2020, the United States Senate rejected an attempt by Rand Paul's amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, which would have required the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Afghanistan within a year and brought an end to the 19-year war.[222] On 8 August 2020, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said that the United States would reduce troop levels to below 5,000 by the end of November 2020.[223]

    The Pentagon announced on November 17, 2020 that it would reduce the number of US forces in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 by mid-January i.e. by January 15, 2021 before President Trump's term of office expires on January 20, 2021.[224][225][226][227] U.S. National security adviser Robert O'Brien stated that the remaining troops in Afghanistan will defend American diplomats, the American embassy and other agencies of the U.S. government doing important work in Afghanistan, enable allies of the United States to do their work in Afghanistan and deter foes of America in Afghanistan.[227] The announcement was criticized by members of the United States Senate like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell or Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island.[224][225][227] NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned in a statement that "the price for leaving too soon or in an uncoordinated way could be very high."[226] Critics said that the Afghan withdrawal would not only undermine already fragile security in the region, but also stated that the troop reductions would not only hurt the ongoing peace talks between Taliban fighters and the government of Afghanistan, but also undermine delicate security in Afghanistan.[224][225][226] According to a senior defense official the conditions used to measure the drawdown are now based on whether national security would be threatened by a reduction in Afghanistan to 2,500 troops. "We do not feel that it is," said the official. The other condition was, "can we maintain a force posture in Afghanistan that permits us to carry out our mission with our allies and partners."[225] The announcement created anxiety in Afghanistan because U.S. troops are considered a hedge against the Taliban. There is a fear of a Taliban revitalization in Afghanistan. Atiqullah Amarkhel, a retired Afghan Army general and military analyst, told the New York Times that the Taliban "are stronger than in the past, and if the Americans leave and don’t support and assist the Afghan Army they won’t resist long, and the Taliban will take over. This is what scares me the most."[226] The decision came one week after Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper for pushing back on Trump's efforts to accelerate the Afghanistan drawdown against the advice of military commanders, including the U.S. and coalition commander Austin S. Miller, setting off a purge of top Pentagon officials. [228] [229] Most former senior military officials and officers disagreed with the decision to reduce the number of forces to this level. The former Deputy Defense Secretary of the Middle East Mick Mulroy said that 2,500 was not enough to preserve what we have fought for, warned against a precipitous withdrawal, and also advocated for leaving a "residual force" in the country. "We should not rely on any assurances of the Taliban, we should rely on the U.S. military and the CIA," Mulroy said.[230] [231]