By Stuart Ibberson, Editor
Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller has announced the United States will reduce U.S. troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan. Miller made the announcement Nov. 17 saying the decision fulfills President Trump’s pledge to bring U.S. forces home. The move has been widely panned by Republicans and U.S. allies. The mission in Afghanistan falls under the auspices of NATO.
Despite pushback from senior military officials, including the now ousted Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who favored a slower drawdown based on the situation on the ground, Trump has given the go ahead to the withdrawal that will see troop levels fall to about 2,500 in each country. Currently, the U.S. has about 4,500 troops in Afghanistan, and 3,000in Iraq.
Under the new withdrawal plan, the troops will come home by Jan. 15, 2021, five days before President Elect Joe Biden takes office.
“If the forces of terror, instability, division and hate begin a deliberate campaign to disrupt our efforts, we stand ready to apply the capabilities required to thwart them,” he said in a roughly eight-minute statement to reporters in the Pentagon briefing room.
Miller refused to take questions from reporters.
In Afghanistan, in particular, military and defense leaders have consistently said the Taliban has not yet met requirements to reduce violent attacks against Afghan government forces. U.S. 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 uncharacteristically blunt critique 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 U.S. troops out of war zones. “By May, it is President Trump’s hope that they will all come home safely and in their entirety,” O’Brien told reporters at the White House 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.”
The move created almost immediate pushback.
Rep. Mac Thornberry, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, slammed the move as “a mistake” in a statement issued shortly after Miller’s announcement.
“I believe that these additional reductions of American troops from terrorist areas are a mistake. Further reductions in Afghanistan will also undercut negotiations there; the Taliban has done nothing — met no condition — that would justify this cut,” he said.
“As long as there are threats to Americans and American national security in the world, the U.S. must be vigilant, strong, and engaged in order to safeguard our people and fulfill our duty under the Constitution,” Thornberry added.
The move has been expected since the Pentagon issued a ‘warning order’ to commanders, directing them to prepare and plan for a reduction of forces.
That speculation brought immediate condemnation, including from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
“We’re playing a limited — limited — but important role in defending American national security and American interests against terrorists who would like nothing more than for the most powerful force for good in the world to simply pick up our ball and go home,” he said in a speech from the Senate floor on Nov. 16.
“There’s no American who does not wish the war in Afghanistan against terrorists and their enablers had already been conclusively won,” he said. “But that does not change the actual choice before us now. A rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan now would hurt our allies and delight — delight — the people who wish us harm.”
The latest move comes after a series of sweeping changes at the highest level of the Pentagon’s civilian leadership, that saw Defense Secretary Mark Esper fired, via twitter.
Before his firing, Esper had forwarded a classified memo to the White House stating the chain of command was unanimous in its assessment that the U.S. not draw down its troop levels in Afghanistan until further conditions on the ground were met.
The United States has been negotiating with the Taliban, with the end result a complete withdrawal of foreign troops from the country. However, a new report issued by the Pentagon Inspector General says that the Taliban has not honored commitments made in an interim agreement, and that al Qaeda is supportive of Trump administrations plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan.
The report says “The DIA reported that al Qaeda leaders support the agreement because it does not require the Taliban to publicly renounce al Qaeda and the deal includes a timeline for the United States and coalition forces to withdraw — accomplishing one of al Qaeda’s main goals,” the report said, referring to the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency.
The report can be viewed here.