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Trump admin intends to announce withdrawal of more than 4,000 troops from Afghanistan

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WASHINGTON — The Trump administration intends to announce the drawdown of more than 4,000 troops from Afghanistan as early next week, according to three current and former U.S. officials. The withdrawal will leave between 8,000 and 9,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the officials said.

The announcement comes just days after Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad rejoined diplomatic talks with the Taliban, which had broken down in September. On Thursday Amb. Khalilzad said the U.S. was “taking a brief pause” in talks after a Wednesday attack near Bagram Airfield killed two Afghan civilians and wounded 70 more.

The U.S. has between 12,000 and 13,000 troops in Afghanistan now. The officials would not say when the drawdown would begin, but did characterize it as a phased withdrawal that would occur over a few months. Two U.S. officials said the drawdown would be a combination of troops re-deploying early and others not being replaced when they rotate out.

U.S. troops patrol at an Afghan National Army (ANA) base in Logar province, Afghanistan on Aug. 7, 2018.Omar Sobhani / Reuters file

In a statement, a spokesman for U.S. Forces-Afghanistan said, “U.S. Forces-Afghanistan has not received orders to reduce troop levels in Afghanistan. We remain fully committed to the Resolute Support mission and our Afghan partners, and focused on our key objective: ensuring Afghanistan is never again used as a safe haven for terrorists who threaten the United States, our allies or our interests.”

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President Donald Trump has pushed for a withdrawal from Afghanistan for some time, including during his recent visit to Afghanistan on Thanksgiving, his first as commander in chief.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper told an audience at the Reagan National Defense Forum last weekend that the reduction of U.S. troops will happen even if the Taliban does not negotiate an agreement, and that the commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Scott Miller, has said he can sustain a reduction in forces.

“The commander feels confident we can go down to a lower level without jeopardizing our ability to ensure that Afghanistan doesn’t become a safe haven for terrorism,” Esper said, adding that he hopes to reallocate forces from CENTCOM to the Asia Pacific region, which he called his “priority theater.”

The announcement of withdrawal is “part of trying to reset the talks with the Taliban,” the former defense official said. Khalilzad can then propose to the Taliban that the two sides restart negotiations where they left off, with the U.S. withdrawing troops and the Taliban promising a ceasefire.

“This takes us to the minimum that you have to keep in the country to remain credible negotiating with the Taliban,” the former official said.

In October Esper said the U.S. could decrease to 8,600 troops without affecting the counterterror operations.

The commander of U.S. Central Command, Gen. Frank McKenzie, participated in meetings Thursday to discuss the footprint for U.S. troops in the Middle East, according to three U.S. officials. The discussion also included talk of increasing the U.S. military footprint in other parts of the Middle East to counter the threat from Iran.

Trump has promised since campaigning for the White House in 2016 to end wars like the one in Afghanistan and reduce the number of U.S. troops deployed overseas. His advisers have over the past three years convinced him not to pull the plug on the Afghanistan mission, but the president showed a willingness to take such a step in October when he abruptly pulled U.S. troops out of Syria.

Trump had made clear to his advisers earlier this year that he wanted to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by the November 2020 election.

“It’s all about talking points in 2020,” the former official said.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Hans Nichols contributed.



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Tulsi Gabbard sues Hillary Clinton for $50M, claims defamation over ‘Russian asset’ remark

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Democratic presidential candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard filed a defamation lawsuit Wednesday against Hillary Clinton seeking $50 million in damages, claiming the former Democratic presidential nominee “carelessly and recklessly impugned” her reputation when she suggested in October that one of the 2020 Democratic candidates is “the favorite of the Russians.”

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, says it aims to hold Clinton and other “political elites” accountable for “distorting the truth in the middle of a critical Presidential election.” It also says Gabbard suffered an economic loss to be proven at trial.

Clinton’s spokesman, Nick Merrill, responded: “That’s ridiculous.”

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Gabbard, a dark horse candidate who represents Hawaii, was on the campaign trail Wednesday and unavailable for comment about the suit, according to her law firm, Pierce Bainbridge Beck Price & Hecht LLP.

“Although Rep. Gabbard’s presidential campaign continues to gain momentum, she has seen her political and personal reputation smeared and her candidacy intentionally damaged by Clinton’s malicious and demonstrably false remarks,” Brian Dunne, a partner at the law firm, said in a statement.

Dunne added that Clinton had exhibited a “personal hostility” toward Gabbard last fall, and that the former secretary of state “resorted to a damaging whisper campaign founded on lies, and when presented with the opportunity to retract her damaging remarks, she refused.”

According to the suit, Clinton felt slighted because Gabbard was one of the first Democrats to publicly endorse Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., for president in 2016 over her, “becoming the most prominent politician to do so at the time.”

Clinton made her remarks during a podcast appearance on “Campaign HQ” with David Plouffe, a Democratic strategist. She did not identify the current Democratic candidate whom she was referring to, but also said Jill Stein was a “Russian asset” as the Green Party candidate in the 2016 election.

Former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report and congressional investigations have shown that Russia’s interference in the 2016 election included bolstering Stein’s run.

Later, when asked if Clinton was referring to Gabbard, Merrill said, “If the nesting doll fits … .” He subsequently tweeted that Clinton’s comments were being misrepresented and that she was referring to the Republican Party, not the Russians, grooming Gabbard.

Gabbard seized on Clinton’s remark, accusing her in a tweet of being the “queen of warmongers, embodiment of corruption, and personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party for so long.” The spat lasted for several days, with Gabbard saying on the campaign trail that it was bringing her negative attention, and that Clinton refused to retract her statements or apologize.

Monica Alba contributed.



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Brexit Party plans special surprise for Brexiteers instead of Big Ben bongs chiming

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THE BREXIT PARTY will sound its own Big Ben bongs on the day the UK leaves the EU after the Commons silenced calls for the iconic clock to ring.

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Schiff praises those who have testified and calls for new witnesses

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Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., praised the “courageous Americans” who had testified in the impeachment inquiry against president Trump and told the Senate they could hear from more relevant witnesses if they voted in favor of doing so.

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