Graham, speaking from the Afghan capital of Kabul, said the president could reduce troop numbers to 8,600, down from the current estimated 12,000. "If President Trump decides in the next few weeks to reduce our forces below the 12,000 we have, I could support that," he said.
"The Afghan security forces are getting more capable," said Graham. “As they achieve capability, the number of U.S. forces necessary can go down.” Despite his past reluctance to embrace a troop withdrawal, Graham said he supports Trump's expected drawdown. That's because Graham says 8,600 U.S. troops would be sufficient to guarantee “Afghanistan never becomes a launching pad for another attack against the United States homeland.”
The South Carolina senator said America's withdrawal from Afghanistan must be "condition-based" and that the Taliban must keep the promises they've made during talks. "It's our goal to withdraw our forces, but it is our ultimate goal to do it in a sustainable fashion. So we don't have to come back and we don't undercut our prestige and our standing all over the world," he said .
It wasn't clear from Graham's comments when or if the U.S. would completely withdraw all of its forces. The Taliban have said any peace agreement must include getting all American troops out of the country.
Recently-resumed peace negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban were again "paused" after an attack Wednesday outside Bagram Air Base, north of Kabul. The attack killed two Afghans and wounded 70 others.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday put the number of international coalition soldiers injured in the attack at five. A coalition statement said the injured service members were from the U.S. and the country of Georgia, but did not specify how many.
Washington's peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has been trying to hammer out a peace agreement with the Taliban for over a year. The U.S. wants any deal to include a promise from the insurgent group that Afghanistan would not used as a base by terrorist groups.
Graham, however, said the Taliban could not be trusted to to be a reliable counter-terrorism force. "It would be insane for America to allow the Taliban to ensure that al-Qaeda and ISIS-K doesn't come back in a way to represent a threat to our allies and to the American homeland.” said Graham, using an alternative abbreviation for the Islamic State group's branch in Afghanistan. The Afghan affiliate refers to itself as the Khorasan Province.
Khalilzad tweeted earlier this month that IS in eastern Afghanistan has been weakened by operations carried out not just by the U.S. and Afghan forces, but by the Taliban as well.
This story, originally published Dec. 17, 2019, has been corrected. The Associated Press erroneously attributed to U.S. military spokesman Sonny Leggett that five service members from the U.S. and the country of Georgia were slightly injured in last week's Taliban attack near Bagram Air Base. It was U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who put the number of international coalition soldiers injured in the attack at five, and the information about the nationalities of the injured came from a coalition statement.