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U.S. troops patrol at an Afghan National Army Base in Logar province, Afghanistan, on Aug. 7, 2018.Omar Sobhani/Reuters

The Trump administration has ordered the military to start withdrawing roughly 7,000 troops from Afghanistan in the coming months, two defense officials said Thursday, an abrupt shift in the 17-year-old war there.

Trump made the decision to pull the troops – about half the number the United States has in Afghanistan now – at the same time he decided to pull U.S. forces out of Syria, one official said.

On Thursday, Jim Mattis, the secretary of defense, announced that he would resign from his position at the end of February after disagreeing with the president over his approach to policy in the Middle East. The Wall Street Journal was the first to report the development.

The whirlwind of troop withdrawals and the resignation of Mattis leave a murky picture for what is next in the United States’ longest war. The reduction of forces in Afghanistan, one official said, is in an effort to make Afghan forces more reliant on their own troops and not Western support.

But some fear the move could only imperil the Afghan troops, which have struggled in the field against the Taliban and have suffered high casualty rates, even with the current level of U.S. support.

Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich, a Pentagon spokeswoman, declined to comment on the plan to remove troops from Afghanistan.

The president long campaigned on bringing troops home, but in 2017, at the request of Mattis, he begrudgingly pledged an additional 4,000 troops to the Afghan campaign to try to hasten an end to the conflict.

Though Pentagon officials have said the influx of forces – coupled with a more aggressive air campaign – was helping the war effort, Afghan forces continued to take nearly unsustainable levels of casualties and lose ground to the Taliban.

The renewed American effort in 2017 was the first step in ensuring Afghan forces could become more independent without a set timeline for a withdrawal. But with plans to quickly reduce the number of U.S. troops in the country, it is unclear if the Afghans can hold their own against an increasingly aggressive Taliban.

Currently, American air strikes are at levels not seen since the height of the war, when tens of thousands of U.S. troops were spread throughout the country. That air support, officials say, consists mostly of propping up Afghan troops while they try to hold territory from a resurgent Taliban.

Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the incoming commander of U.S. Central Command, told lawmakers during his confirmation this month that the Afghan military would dissolve if not for American support.

“If we left precipitously right now, I do not believe they would be able to successfully defend their country,” he said. “I don’t know how long it’s going to take. I think that one of the things that would actually provide the most damage to them would be if we put a timeline on it and we said we were going out at a certain point in time.”

The plan to reduce U.S. forces in the country comes just days after the United Arab Emirates hosted two days of talks between the United States and the Taliban.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the Trump administration’s special representative in charge of the talks for Afghan reconciliation, speaking to Afghan news outlets, hinted toward progress during the discussions.

Khalilzad said the Taliban’s demand remained an agreement over the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan, while the United States has sought assurances from the militant group that Afghanistan would not become a haven for terrorists.

It remains unclear how the newly planned troop drawdown could affect the administration’s negotiations with the Taliban.

Besides the current contingent of roughly 14,000 U.S. troops, there are also 16,000 NATO and allied troops deployed in Afghanistan tasked primarily with training and advising the Afghan forces.

If American troop levels drop to around 7,000, they will be at their lowest since March 2002, when the largest ground assault of the war at that time began during Operation Anaconda.

The U.S. troops currently in Afghanistan are divided between training and advising Afghan forces and a counterterror mission against groups like the Islamic State and al-Qaida. Those who are part of the 7,000-troop withdrawal will be a mixture of forces from both of those missions.

More than 2,400 Americans have died in Afghanistan since 2001, and this year 13 were killed in combat. Since the end of 2014, when the Pentagon declared an end to combat operations in the country, more than 25,000 Afghan soldiers and police have been killed.