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No sudden troop pullout planned for Afghanistan, says US defence secretary



US Defence Secretary Mark Esper walks with President Ashraf Ghani at the Presidential Palace in Kabul October 20. [Secretary of Defence Dr. Mark T. Esper/Twitter]

KABUL -- Afghans should not misconstrue America's withdrawal from parts of Syria as a precursor to a similar move in Afghanistan, US Defence Secretary Mark Esper said Monday (October 21).

The US administration last week announced the withdrawal of 1,000 American troops from northeast Syria.

The United States maintains a "long-standing commitment" to Afghanistan, said Esper, adding that US policy direction for the country is completely different.

"All these things should reassure our Afghan allies and others that they should not misinterpret our actions in the recent week or so with regard to Syria and contrast that with Afghanistan," he said.

Underscoring America's will to stay in Afghanistan, Esper said, was that it still faces a "virulent terrorist threat that originated in the form of al-Qaeda and now finds itself in the Taliban and ISIS-K and other groups," referring to the local branch of the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS).

The United States and the Taliban last month were on the brink of signing a deal that would have seen some American forces begin to withdraw from Afghanistan in return for various insurgent security commitments.

But negotiations collapsed at the last minute when US President Donald Trump declared talks "dead" following Taliban attacks including one that took 12 lives in Kabul on September 5.

During the past year the United States has reduced its military footprint by about 2,000 troops, said Gen. Scott Miller, commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

"As we work in Afghanistan with our partners, we are always looking to optimise the force," Miller said, speaking at the same news conference as Esper.

That troop reduction was "part of our optimisation over the past year", said Miller.

That force reduction is unrelated to any prospective deal with the Taliban.

The United States now has about 13,000 troops in the country, said US Forces-Afghanistan spokesman Col. Sonny Leggett.

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