ISLAMABAD/NEW DELHI - U.S. President Donald Trump says his administration is moving closer to a peace deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan, saying a week-long nationwide "reduction in violence" truce with the insurgent group is holding up "so far, so good."
Trump spoke to reporters in India at the conclusion of his two-day trip Tuesday, saying his Afghan peace initiative has received widespread backing and "everybody is happy about it," including New Delhi.
"We're pretty close. We will see what's going on. We have got two days now under our belt without violence, or I guess a minimum of violence, and we'll see what happens," Trump said of the temporary truce and upcoming possible peace agreement with the Taliban.
The mutually agreed seven-day reduced fighting deal went into effect last Saturday, with U.S.-backed Afghan forces and insurgents committing to not launching offensive operations.
The truce is to culminate on Feb. 29 with the signing of a U.S.-Taliban agreement in the Gulf state of Qatar. If inked, the agreement would end America's longest war, now in its 19th year, and would lead to a phased withdrawal of roughly 13,000 American troops from the country.
"After 19 years we would like to bring our young people back home," Trump noted. He said Washington is working hard to bring down the number of American troops to 8,600, and "from there we'll make a decision as to what the final outcome would."
Qatar hosted the contentious off-and-on U.S.-Taliban negotiations that have been taking place over the past 18 months. The draft agreement provides a timetable for the withdrawal of American and coalition forces from Afghanistan, Taliban counterterrorism guarantees, and a dialogue process for political reconciliation between Afghan parties involved in the conflict.
"The Taliban must respect the agreement, specifically regarding their promises of severing ties with terrorists. We're not required to leave unless they can demonstrate they're fulfilling every element of their end of the bargain," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday.
Afghanistan is 'very dangerous'
Trump defended his withdrawal plans, saying American troops in the country are no longer serving as a military force, but rather as a police force.
"The area is a hot bed of problems and when we bring them [U.S. troops] home, we'll let them [Taliban] know that if something happens we will hit them so hard," he said in a bid to addresses concerns the Taliban could violate the agreement and try to grab power in the post-war Afghanistan.
Trump once again said the United States easily could have won the Afghan war had he wanted to kill "millions of people, innocent people."
He noted that U.S. intelligence and other military means, however, would remain in place to watch the post-agreement situation in Afghanistan, describing the country as a "very dangerous" part of the world.
US anti-IS strikes
Trump's remarks came on a day the U.S. military said it conducted two counterterrorism airstrikes in the eastern Afghan province of Kunar, killing at least four Islamic State fighters there.
"We continue to eliminate ISIS terrorists wherever they hide to protect Afghanistan while honoring the U.S.-Afghan-Taliban agreement to reduce the violence," stressed U.S. military spokesman Col. Sonny Leggett in reference to the Middle Eastern terrorist group.
The war in Afghanistan has cost Washington nearly $1 trillion and the lives of about 2,400 military personnel.