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U.S. quietly withdraws 2,000 troops from Afghanistan

By
Clyde Hughes
 A handout photo shows Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani (R) meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Sunday. Photo by Afghanistan President Office/EPA-EFE
 A handout photo shows Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani (R) meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Sunday. Photo by Afghanistan President Office/EPA-EFE

Oct. 21 (UPI) -- The United States has reduced the size of its fighting force in Afghanistan by 2,000 with little fanfare, despite the lack of a peace deal with the Taliban.

Gen. Austin Miller, the commanding officer of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said Monday that the U.S. has about 12,000 troops remaining in Afghanistan. While Afghan officials have not talked about the drop, one said that the government, which remains at odds with the Taliban, has approved of the current troop withdrawal.

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U.S. and Taliban negotiators were on the verge of signing a peace deal despite the Taliban, which continued a terrorism campaign in the country, refusing to meet with the current Afghan government. That deal fell apart last month when a Taliban attack killed an American soldier.

The U.S. had planned to drop its troop presence to 8,600 initially under the U.S.-Taliban peace deal that was ultimately scrapped.

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"As we work in Afghanistan with our partners, we're always looking to optimize the force," Miller said. "I'm confident that we have the right capabilities to one reach our objectives as well as to continue to train, advise and assist throughout the country."

Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who visited Afghanistan this weekend, said he expects a peace agreement will eventually be struck there to end America's longest-running war.

"That's the best way forward, and I'll leave it to State Department to comment on where things stand," Esper said Saturday en route to Afghanistan. "​And then with regard to a withdraw of forces, as we've always said, that it'll be conditions-based, but we're confident that we can go down to 8,600 without affecting our C.T. operations, if you will.

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​"But all that -- again, we think a political agreement is always the best way forward with regard to next steps in Afghanistan," he added.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said a congressional delegation to talk with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Miller in Kabul as well on Sunday. The group also spoke with Esper.

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