Officials throughout the Trump administration are bracing themselves for the President to make an announcement about the US presence in Afghanistan, similar to his declaration Wednesday that the US will withdraw the military from Syria, informed administration sources tell CNN.
The sources cautioned that the President has not yet made a final decision, but officials are concerned and convinced that he might do so, and soon.
The US has about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan, most of which are present as part of a larger NATO-led mission to train, advise and assist Afghan forces. Any withdrawal would be complicated by the fact that the United States is part of NATO’s Resolute Support mission.
Trump has long been critical of the US presence in Afghanistan, which began in 2001 after the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has questioned US investment in the country, asking in 2011, “When will we stop wasting our money on rebuilding Afghanistan? We must rebuild our country first.”
Since his election, Trump has made his frustration with the continued presence clear. Outlining his strategy for the country in an August 2017 address, the President said, “I share the American people’s frustration. I also share their frustration over a foreign policy that has spent too much time, energy, money — and, most importantly, lives — trying to rebuild countries in our own image instead of pursuing our security interests above all other considerations.”
In an interview with The Washington Post last month, Trump laid out his rationale for keeping US troops in the country in a way that made clear the impetus to remain wasn’t his. “We’re there because virtually every expert that I have and speak to say if we don’t go there, they’re going to be fighting over here,” he said.
The concern about a possible Afghanistan announcement comes a day after Trump ordered the “full” and “rapid” withdrawal of US troops from Syria, declaring the US has defeated ISIS in Syria.
The decision, a sharp reversal from previously stated US policy, surprised foreign allies and lawmakers, sparking angry rebukes, rebuttals and warnings of intensified congressional oversight, even as the White House said troops are already on their way home.
“We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency,” Trump tweeted Wednesday morning.
Planning for that pullout is already underway, a US defense and an administration official told CNN.
CNN’s Ryan Browne contributed to this report