Trump told Axios he will reduce American troop levels in Afghanistan down to about 4,000 “very soon”.
He said: “We are largely out of Afghanistan”.
“We’ll be down in a very short period of time to 8,000, then we’re going to be down to 4,000, we’re negotiating right now”, he said adding that the US had “been there now for 19 years and we will be getting out.”
Refusing to give a date as to when the additional drawdown of troops would be done, he was then asked how many US troops would still be in Afghanistan on election day in November.
Trump said “anywhere between four and five thousand.”
Questioned about long-standing rumors of Russia supplying the Taliban with weapons, Trump said he had “heard that but again it’s never reached my desk”.
He also said “Russia doesn’t want anything to do with Afghanistan” and stated the old Soviet Union had gone bankrupt because of its involvement in Afghanistan.
“The last thing that Russia wants to do is to get too much involved in Afghanistan. They tried that once and it didn’t work out too well,” he said.
This comes after reports emerged in June of Russia offering bounty payments to the Taliban to kill US troops.
Last month the top US general overseeing operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan told CNN that the intelligence concerning Russian operatives offering bounties to the Taliban was “very worrisome” but that the information wasn’t solid enough to hold up in a court of law.
General Frank McKenzie, the commander of US Central Command, also said he was not convinced that the Russian bounty program was directly responsible for the deaths of US personnel.
But former US officials have said whether or not bounties were paid, Moscow has been a thorn in Washington’s side for years with regards to Afghanistan.
Referring to the issue of supplying weapons to the Taliban, the then-defense secretary James Mattis said in 2017: “We’re going to have to confront Russia.”
General John Nicholson, the top US commander in Afghanistan from 2016 to 2018, also accused Russia of “arming belligerents” in 2017 and in 2018 said, “Clearly, they are acting to undermine our interests.”
Other former officials have in the past told NBC News that although Russia has professed support for planned peace negotiations, Moscow also cultivated ties and provided aid to the Taliban.
Douglas London, a former CIA official who worked on Afghanistan matters before he retired in late 2018, told NBC that US officials closely tracked Russian support to the Taliban.
He also said that reports of the Russians paying the Taliban to “incentivize” American deaths is “not inconsistent with our understanding of Moscow’s efforts to be a disruptive force and inflict harm on our people and interests.”