Defense Secretary says start of reduction in violence period in Afghanistan ‘is a moving date’


ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA – OCTOBER 28: U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper holds a news conference at the Pentagon the day after it was announced that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in a U.S. raid in Syria October 28, 2019 in Arlington, Virginia. The leader and self-proclaimed caliph of the Islamic State, al-Baghdadi reportedly blew himself up with explosives when cornered by a U.S. Special Operations team at his compound in Syria. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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(CNN) — Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Saturday said the US has not yet fully set a date for when it will begin a period of reduction in violence negotiated with the Taliban.

“That is a moving date because we are still doing consultations if you will … yesterday Secretary (of State Mike) Pompeo and I met with (Afghan) President (Ashraf) Ghani … so I can’t give you a hard date right now,” Esper told reporters in Munich, Germany, before leaving to return to the US.

Esper said the US will need to make some decisions after the agreement on the violence, which is expected to last about seven days, ends.

“There is a reduction in violence period, and then we have to consider whether or not to move forward with the agreement, with the peace agreement. There will be a reduction (of US service members stationed in Afghanistan) to a certain number over time 8,600 and from there — actually from the beginning it’s all conditions based,” he said.

“We have agreed to a number of things we would not do as well and (the Taliban) have agreed to a number of things … We are going to suspend a significant part of our operations, but I don’t want to go anymore into it,” Esper added.

“Where we are right now is on the doorstep of a reduction of violence period. If we decide to move forward, if all sides hold up — meet their obligations under that reduction in violence then we’ll start talking about the next part, whether to move forward,” he said.

Regarding an expected reduction of the US forces to just under 9,000, he told the reporters: “8,600 number is a number the commander feels very comfortable with that we can go down to and still perform all of our missions, (counterterrorism) and train, advise and assist.”

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