Following through on President Donald Trump's promise to draw down troops in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Mark Esper confirmed the target is no more than 5,000 by the election.
"We're going down to a number less than 5,000 by the end of November," Esper told Fox News' "Justice" with Judge Jeanine Pirro. "We need to brief Congress what that looks like."
The troop withdrawal is supported by Central Command and throughout the administration, but it will be "conditions-based," Esper added.
"Right now, we think that we can do all the core missions, first and foremost being ensured the United States is not threatened by terrorists coming out of Afghanistan," he said. "We can do those at a lower level."
The ending of the longest war in U.S. history in Afghanistan is still a work in progress and cannot be achieved until the Taliban commits to not engaging in terrorism against the U.S. and breaks its ties with the al-Qaida terrorist organization.
"In the meantime, we see the Afghan peace process — it's not perfect, but it's moving forward, slowly," Esper told Pirro. "You know, it's a windy road. It's a rough road. But they're making progress each and every week."
The Trump administration signed a deal ending U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan if the above conditions were met.
Trump had told Axios in a White House interview last week he planned to get the troop total down below 5,000 by the election, but said he would not give specifics.
"We're going down to 4,000; we're negotiating right now," Trump told Axios. "I don't want to tell you [when], but I've always said we will get largely out."
Trump critics have attacked him for ignoring unverified intelligence briefing notes suggesting Russia might be paying bounties in Afghanistan for killing American troops, a charge Trump has derided as illogical, considering Russia's checkered past in its dealings with the country.
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