Graham supports drawing down to 8,600 troops in Afghanistan

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamCountry above party: How the Founders designed impeachment to protect the republic Overnight Defense: Lawmakers unveil details on spending deal | Over .3B included for border barriers | Trump reportedly planning Afghanistan troop drawdown | US envoy dismisses North Korea’s deadline Trump defends Giuliani’s trip to Ukraine: ‘He does it out of love’ MORE (R-S.C.) said Monday that he would support President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats secure fast-track to the floor for Canada-Mexico trade deal Mexican official says he’s ‘very satisfied’ with USMCA after recent concern More than 700 historians sign letter calling for House to impeach Trump MORE drawing down to 8,600 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Speaking to reporters in Kabul, Graham, a leading GOP defense voice who has become a key ally of Trump’s, said a reduction in U.S. forces in Afghanistan “this coming year is possible.”

“If President Trump decides in the next few weeks to reduce our forces below the 12,000 we have, I could support that,” Graham said.

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Graham added that he has been “given” the number 8,600 and that Trump is “looking at trying to achieve that number.”

“With 8,600 American forces aligned in the right configuration, we would have a very lethal punch,” Graham said.

The United States has about 12,000 to 13,000 troops in Afghanistan with two missions: to train, advise and assist Afghan troops in their fight against the Taliban and to conduct counterterrorism operations against groups such as al Qaeda and ISIS.

Reports surfaced over the weekend that Trump could announce a withdrawal of about 4,000 U.S. troops as soon as this week.

Trump has repeatedly made clear his desire to withdraw from Afghanistan, with a goal to complete the pullout by the 2020 election. Speaking to troops at Bagram Air Base over Thanksgiving, Trump said the United States could “reduce” forces in Afghanistan “very substantially.”

U.S. talks with the Taliban resumed last week after Trump declared them “dead” following his decision to invite, then disinvite Taliban leaders to Camp David.

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Days after the resumption of talks, though, U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad announced a “brief pause” following a Taliban attack on Bagram that killed at least two civilians and wounded more than 70 others.

In the past, Graham has vigorously opposed any drawdown in Afghanistan.

On Monday, though, he argued a reduction in U.S. troops is now possible because Afghan forces’ capabilities are improving.

“The Afghan security forces are getting more capable. As they achieve capability, the number of U.S. forces necessary can go down,” Graham said.

A force posture of 8,600 U.S. troops, he added, would be enough to ensure Afghanistan “never becomes a launching pad for another attack against the United States homeland” and “give an edge to the Afghan security forces against the Taliban and other enemies.”

Anything lower than 8,600, he added, would require a “fundamental change in the dynamic on the ground,” such as a “peace agreement that’s real.”

Graham also stressed that a withdrawal needs to be “based on conditions” and that the United States must be clear to the Taliban in negotiations that it will leave a counterterrorism force in the country.

“The Taliban cannot be trusted to be a reliable counterterrorism force,” Graham said. “It would be insane for America to rely on the Taliban to ensure that al Qaeda and [ISIS] doesn’t came back in a way to represent a threat to our allies and the American homeland. Even if they had the will, they don’t have the capability.”

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