WASHINGTON - US Defense Secretary Mark Esper has said that he has given the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan the go-ahead to begin the initial withdrawal of U.S. troops.

Speaking at a Pentagon news conference, Esper said he was not sure whether the drawdown had begun, but said it is required to start within 10 days of the signing on Saturday of a peace deal with the Taliban. Esper said Gen. Scott Miller, the U.S. commander in Kabul, has the authority to begin withdrawal of forces to about 8,600 from the current total of nearly 13,000.

Esper said the US expects violence will “taper off,” leading to a start by March 10 of peace negotiations among Afghan groups, including the Taliban.

Earlier, United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged on Sunday that the road ahead in Afghanistan will be rough following the historic peace deal between United States and Taliban.

During an interview, Mike Pompeo said “No one is under any false illusion that this won’t be a difficult conversation, but that conversation for the first time in almost two decades will be among the Afghan people.”

Referring to US-Taliban deal, he said, “We’ve built an important base where we can begin to bring American soldiers home, reduce the risk of the loss of life of any American in Afghanistan.”