U.S. troops on standby for Iraq, Afghanistan drawdown

U.S. Army Paratrooper, Staff Sgt. Michael McDade, left, and Sgt. Ocampo assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment (TF West), 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, receive coordinates for mortar fire at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, Aug. 16, 2020. Mortar training is used as a show of force and base defense operations. (Army photograph by Spec. Khalil Jenkins)

At this time, there are approximately 4,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led mission there, and 3,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

President Donald Trump has made no secret of his desire to withdraw all U.S. troops from both countries, and CNN is reporting that military commanders are expecting those orders any day now.

The Pentagon has issued a ‘warning order’ to commanders to prepare and plan for a drawdown of U.S. troops in both countries – bringing the U.S. footprint in both areas of combat to about 2,500 each.

A warning order is a preliminary to an official withdrawal notice.

The move comes as the acting secretary of defense seems to be sending contradictory messages. In a letter to U.S. troops last week, he said the U.S. must continue its battle against al Qaeda and the forces behind the 9/11 atttack.

“This war isn’t over,” Miller wrote in his message. “We are on the verge of defeating al Qaeda and its associates, but we must avoid our past strategic error of failing to see the fight through to the finish. Indeed, this fight has been long, our sacrifices have been enormous, and many are weary of war — I’m one of them — but this is the critical phase in which we transition our efforts from a leadership to supporting role,” he wrote in reference to the current US role of supporting counterterrorism campaigns such as the one in Afghanistan.

“All wars must end. Ending wars requires compromise and partnership. We met the challenge; we gave it our all. Now, it’s time to come home,” Miller added.

U.S. Special Forces and Afghan Special security forces work and train together in eastern Afghanistan, winter 2019- 2020. (Air Force photograph by Tech. Sgt. Gregory Brook)

However, the spokesperson for NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he had spoken to Miller about the alliance’s commitment to stay in Afghanistan as long as necessary.

NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said Stoltenberg held talks with Christopher Miller on Nov. 13 about the 30-nation U.S.-led military alliance’s “agenda, including the situation in Afghanistan,” and that “NATO’s position hasn’t changed” on its security role in the conflict-ravaged country.

“No NATO ally wants to stay any longer than necessary. At the same time, we want to preserve the gains made with such sacrifice, and to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists that can attack the United States or any other NATO ally,” Lungescu said.

NATO took charge of the international security effort in Afghanistan in 2003, two years after a U.S-led coalition ousted the Taliban for harboring former al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. In 2014, it began to train and advise Afghan security forces, but has gradually pulled troops out in line with a U.S.-brokered peace deal.

Americans often make up at least half of the troops participating in the Resolute Support mission. Around 8,000 U.S. troops were involved in August. NATO allies and their partners rely on U.S. air power, transport, logistics and medical assistance to operate. It’s unlikely that the mission could function or even leave without significant U.S. help.

Lungescu said that NATO allies “will continue to consult on the future of our mission in Afghanistan, and we stand ready to further adjust our mission, in a coordinated manner and based on conditions on the ground.”

Violence and chaos have increased in Afghanistan in recent months even as government negotiators and the Taliban are meeting in Qatar to find an end to decades of relentless war in Afghanistan. The two sides have made little progress.

At least two government security troops were killed and four others wounded on Friday in a suicide car bomb attack in Kabul. No one immediately claimed responsibility, though suspicion immediately fell on the Taliban.

The latest move comes after sweeping changes in the top echelons of the Pentagon last week that started on Nov. 9 with Trump’s firing of Defense Secretary Mark Esper. He has since installed several who are considered loyal to the president, including a former Fox News commentator who failed to get through Senate confirmation because of offensive remarks he made, including about Islam.

For more on the personnel changes at the Pentagon, see https://www.aerotechnews.com/blog/2020/11/12/trump-loyalists-get-top-pentagon-jobs-after-esper-firing/.

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