RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
President Trump has said in recent days that the U.S. will remove thousands of troops from Afghanistan. In return for some 5,000 troops leaving the country, the Taliban has reportedly agreed not to provide safe haven for extremist groups like al-Qaida and ISIS. But the top American general for the region insists that the U.S. will still need some kind of force on the ground to combat terrorism in that country. Here's NPR's Tom Bowman.
TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: General Frank McKenzie, during a trip to the region, says he hasn't yet received orders from the president to reduce the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, currently at about 14,000. Those forces are now training Afghan troops, fighting the Taliban as well as al-Qaida and ISIS terrorist groups. And McKenzie says that even with a peace deal, there'll continue to be a need for some type of counterterror effort to make sure those terrorist groups do not try to mount attacks on the U.S. or Europe.
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FRANK MCKENZIE: We believe that ISIS and al-Qaida even have aspirational dream to doing that, and some foreign pressure is going to be necessary going forward. We can explore what that's going to look like. It could be a broad variety of things, but I don't think you can leave it uncontested.
BOWMAN: Asked whether U.S. counterterror forces need to remain inside Afghanistan, McKenzie would only say, quote, "there are a lot of possibilities out there." The Taliban are insisting that all U.S. troops must eventually leave Afghanistan in exchange for a pledge not to harbor al-Qaida again. It was that safe harbor in Afghanistan under Taliban rule that allowed al-Qaida to plan and mount the 9/11 attacks that killed more than 3,000 Americans.
Some defense analysts and lawmakers, including Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, argue that simply a pledge from the Taliban to break with al-Qaida is not enough. They say the U.S. must continue to maintain a counterterror force in Afghanistan to make sure terrorist groups don't gain strength. In the past few days, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, who's leading the negotiations with the Taliban, say there's a deal awaiting President Trump's approval. But that deal has been met with skepticism from the Afghan government.
Tom Bowman, NPR News, Amman, Jordan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.