(CBS NEWS) – Former two-term Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, now a Democratic presidential candidate, favors a speedy withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan — the “sooner the better,” he told “CBS This Morning” Friday. Earlier Friday morning, two American service members were killed during an operation in Afghanistan, according to U.S. and NATO forces, bringing the total death toll to four this year.

(credit: CBS)

Currently, there are approximately 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, facing both the Taliban’s annual spring offensive and Islamic State insurgents who have been expanding into Afghanistan as they’re being driven out of Syria and Iraq. President Trump would like to see a dramatic drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and the Pentagon is working on plans to withdraw up to half of the troops, while the U.S. continues negotiations with the Taliban.

Asked if he supports the president’s negotiations with the Taliban at the exclusion of the Afghan government, Hickenlooper told CBS, “We’ve got to get the elected Afghan government involved as soon as possible, but certainly a war that’s been going on for 17 years and that we see no indication of victory, you’ve got to look at different routes and different solutions, and one of those is cutting back.”

Hickenlooper touted U.S. progress already made in the region, citing improvements in enrolling more young women in school.

He added that “ultimately we need to remove our active military troops from Afghanistan.” Asked for a specific timeline, Hickenlooper suggested that an immediate U.S. pullback, which the president has advocated, “gives away our hand” and “limits our choices.”

Settling on “the sooner the better” rather than “ASAP” to characterize the timetable he’d support, Hickenlooper said he thought that this “slightly softer language” would allow the U.S. the ability to protect U.S. interests and allies in the region.

Meanwhile, Hickenlooper, who fought for new gun laws as governor in the wake of the deadly Aurora movie theater shooting in 2013, said that in the wake of the tragic New Zealand mass shooting last week, that the U.S. should be “paying attention” to how quickly that country is moving forward with revising gun laws.

“When we took on the NRA back in 2013 after the shooting in the Aurora movie theater, you know, in the end, the NRA — no matter what we said — they couldn’t get them to go along with universal background checks,” said Hickenlooper. He added that in Colorado, “There were 38 people convicted of homicides who were trying to buy guns, and we stopped them. Overall over 3,000 violent criminals tried to buy a gun, we stopped them. Still, we couldn’t get a single Republican to support that that initiative.”

Hickenlooper said he would make gun control a top priority for his administration if elected president, though he thinks such an effort would start state-by-state. Ultimately, “it should be a national effort and ultimately a national victory in terms of universal background checks, high-capacity magazines,” he told CBS. He also said that “we don’t want to take away guns” or “diminish the Second Amendment.”

“But we’ve got to make sure that we keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people,” he added.

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