US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says President Donald Trump has directed that American forces be reduced in Afghanistan before the 2020 election.
US President Donald Trump wants combat forces reduced in Afghanistan by the next US presidential election, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says, introducing a timeline to Washington's plan of cutting troop numbers there.
It comes as NATO revealed two US soldiers had been killed in an insider attack in Afghanistan.
Mr Trump's South Asia strategy, unveiled in August 2017, called for an open-ended deployment of US forces with the goal of compelling the Taliban to negotiate peace with the Kabul government to end nearly 18 years of war.
"That's my directive from the president of the United States," Mr Pompeo told The Economic Club of Washington DC on Monday when asked whether he expects the US to reduce troops in Afghanistan before the next election in November 2020.
"He's been unambiguous: end the endless wars, drawdown, reduce. It won't just be us," he said, referring to Mr Trump's directive. "We hope that overall the need for combat forces in the region is reduced."
He joked that delivering on the president's goal would be "job enhancing" for him.
The disclosure of a timeline will add to speculation that Mr Trump is prepared to strike any deal with the Taliban insurgency that will allow for at least partial US withdrawal before American voters go to the polls, irrespective of concerns by the US-backed government in Kabul.
Mr Pompeo's comments also come at a delicate moment, as the US prepares to engage in another round talks with the insurgents.
Disclosing Mr Trump's goals of withdrawing forces could weaken the US negotiating position if the Taliban believe Trump wants to withdraw, irrespective of the outlines of the deal.
Mr Pompeo said he was optimistic about negotiations with the Taliban to end the nearly 18-year-old war in Afghanistan.
Washington wants to negotiate a deal under which foreign forces would pull out of Afghanistan in return for security guarantees by the Taliban, including a pledge that the country will not become a safe haven for terror groups.
"We want them to take their country back, and we want to reduce what is, for us, tens of billions of dollars a year in expenditures," Mr Pompeo added.
Meanwhile, the NATO-led Resolute Support mission said in a statement two US service members had been killed in Afghanistan on Monday.
It gave no further details and withheld the names of the service members until next of kin were informed.
The incident brings the number of US troops killed in Afghanistan this month to three and at least 11 in 2019.
A US official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that according to initial information it was a "green-on-blue" or insider attack.
The official said the incident took place in Kandahar. The official added that this was initial information and could change.