Flashpoints: Esper wants to move troops from Afghanistan to the Indo-Pacific to confront China


By: Shawn Snow


Soldiers using the M4A1 SOPMOD Block II during a raid in Afghanistan circa 2012 (Spc Justin Young/Army)

While an announcement of a drawdown of several thousand American troops from Afghanistan is expected soon from the White House, the secretary of defense wants to redeploy those forces to the Indo-Pacific region to confront China.

There are currently 13,000 U.S. troops deployed to Afghanistan. During a Monday visit to Kabul, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said President Donald Trump may soon announce a decision to reduce the American footprint in Afghanistan to as low as 8,600 troops.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters Monday that he has not yet issued any orders to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan, but he explained that a reduced footprint with or without a settled peace agreement with the Taliban was still a possibility.

“I would like to go down to a lower number because I want to either bring those troops home, so they can refit and retrain for other missions or/and be redeployed to the Indo-Pacific to face off our greatest challenge in terms of the great power competition that’s vis-a-vis China,” Esper said Monday.

Esper said he believes the U.S. can reduce the number of troops because the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan Army Gen. Austin Miller says he can conduct both the counterterrorism and advising mission in Afghanistan with fewer troops.


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