President Trump has ordered the Pentagon to pull 2,500 U.S. troops from Afghanistan and Iraq by mid-January, acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller announced on Tuesday.
The Defense Department will cut the number of troops in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 and the number of forces in Iraq from 3,000 to 2,500. The decision “comes at the recommendation” of Trump’s “senior-most military officials,” a senior defense official told reporters ahead of Miller’s announcement.
The official would not say which senior military officials had conferred with the president and said it was a “collaborative decision.”
BREAKING: Acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller announces the U.S. will reduce troops to 2,500 each in Iraq and Afghanistan by Jan 15.
— Jennifer Franco (@jennfranconews) November 17, 2020
The drawdown order comes only a week after Trump fired previous Defense Secretary Mark Esper and replaced him with Miller.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Trump administration has made tremendous headway against terrorist threats, but warned against a potentially “humiliating” pullout from Afghanistan that he said would be worse than President Barack Obama’s 2011 withdrawal from Iraq and reminiscent of the U.S. departure from Saigon in 1975.
Rep. Michael McCaul, Republican leader on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said of the plans for Afghanistan, “We need to ensure a residual force is maintained for the foreseeable future to protect U.S. national and homeland security interests and to help secure peace for Afghanistan.”
Trump’s new Pentagon chief, Christopher Miller, hinted at the troop withdrawals over the weekend in a carefully worded message to the force.
“We remain committed to finishing the war that al-Qaida brought to our shores in 2001,” he said, and warned that “we must avoid our past strategic error of failing to see the fight through to the finish.”
But Miller also made it clear that “all wars must end.”
“This fight has been long, our sacrifices have been enormous. and many are weary of war — I’m one of them,” he said. ”Ending wars requires compromise and partnership. We met the challenge; we gave it our all. Now, it’s time to come home.”
The accelerated withdrawal, however, goes against the longstanding advice of Trump’s military leadership, including Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, top U.S. commander for the Middle East. But officials suggested that commanders will be able to live with the partial pullout, which allows them to keep counterterrorism troops in Afghanistan and gives them time to remove critical equipment fro the country.
Military officials also have warned that there is a large amount of critical, classified equipment in Afghanistan that must be removed, but it will take time. They also say that any full U.S. withdrawal needs to be coordinated with other coalition allies that have troops in the country.
The White House, however, issued a series of statements about Afghanistan over the past month. Trump on Oct. 7 tweeted that “we should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas.” When asked about those comments, Robert O’Brien, his national security adviser, said Trump was just expressing a hope.