There's no current instruction from the White House to yank troops out of Afghanistan. But amid recent developments in Syria, the Pentagon is taking no chances and has been setting up a contingency plan in anticipation of any surprise directives from President Trump on Afghanistan. Current and former Defense Department officials tell NBC News that the precautionary measure is just "prudent planning," with the "dress rehearsal" of Syria offering a hint of what could happen in Afghanistan if troops are suddenly withdrawn there. "The Defense Department does not have orders to draw down troops in Afghanistan and our mission has not changed," a DOD rep says. "US force levels in Afghanistan remain conditions-based and will continue to reflect the level required to execute our mission."
Trump campaigned in 2016 on bringing troops home, and with the 2020 election looming, he's once more turned his focus to that. Defense Secretary Mark Esper tried to assuage any nervousness about a sudden troop withdrawal in Afghanistan at a Monday presser. "Very different situations, very different adversaries ... very different level of commitment," he said. "All these things should reassure Afghan allies and others they should not misinterpret our actions in the region in the recent week or so in regard to Syria and contrast that with Afghanistan." In fact, a troop streamlining has already begun, with 2,000 troops pulled from Afghanistan in the past year, "unbeknownst to the public as part of our optimization," Gen. Scott Miller said at the presser, per the Washington Post. Esper says it's a move to "free up time, money, and manpower" that can be redirected to efforts against China and Russia. (Read more Afghanistan stories.)