Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller on Tuesday announced plans to reduce US troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying the decision fulfills President Donald Trump’s promise to bring forces home even when Republicans and US allies warn of a rash.
The new plan will accelerate the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan during Trump’s last days in office, despite arguments from senior military officials for a slower and more methodical withdrawal. Trump has refused to concede his election loss to Democrat Joe Biden, who takes office Jan. 20, just five days after troop withdrawals are scheduled to end.
Miller, who refused to take questions from journalists, said the plan would reduce the number of troops in Afghanistan from more than 4,500 to 2,500 and in Iraq from about 3,000 to 2,500. Miller added that the United States is still ready to respond if conditions deteriorate.
“If the forces of terror, instability, division and hatred begin a deliberate campaign to disrupt our efforts, we are ready to take the necessary steps to counter them,” he said in an eight-minute statement to Pentagon reporters. .
The withdrawal plan falls under Trump’s often repeated promise to end America’s long war. It is also contrary to his guidance that troop withdrawals are based on the conditions on the ground, not a date on the calendar.
In Afghanistan in particular, military and defense leaders have consistently said that the Taliban have not yet met the requirements to reduce violent attacks on Afghan government forces. US forces have remained in Afghanistan since they invaded in October 2001.
The decision has already received a cool reception from some Republican leaders on Capitol Hill, and a somewhat characteristically blunt criticism from NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
Trump’s national security adviser Robert O’Brien said the president is keeping his promise to the American people to get American troops out of war zones. “In May, it is President Trump’s hope that they will all come home safely and in their entirety,” O’Brien told White House reporters shortly after Miller made the announcement at the Pentagon.
“I want to reiterate that this policy is not new,” O’Brien said. “This has been the president’s policy since he took office.”