Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller confirmed Tuesday that the Pentagon will further reduce the number of U.S. service members in Iraq and Afghanistan at the direction of President Donald Trump, with a deadline that lands just days before Inauguration Day.
Fox News reported that, according to Miller, “U.S. forces will be cut by roughly half in Afghanistan to 2,500, and by 500 troops in Iraq to 2,500” by Jan. 15, 2021.
While the presidential race remains contested through several lawsuits filed by the Trump campaign, mainstream media outlets have roundly called the election for former Vice President Joe Biden. Regardless of who ultimately wins the White House, Inauguration Day is slated for Jan 20.
“This decision by the president is based on continuous engagement with his national security cabinet over the past several months, including ongoing discussions with me and my colleagues across the United States government,” Miller said during a briefing from the Pentagon.
“I have also spoken with our military commanders and we all will execute this repositioning in a way that protects our fighting men and women, our partners in the intelligence community and diplomatic corps, and our superb allies that are critical to rebuilding Afghan and Iraqi security capabilities and civil society for a lasting peace in troubled lands,” Miller said.
The announcement comes just days after Trump fired Miller’s predecessor, former Department of Defense Secretary Mark Esper. According to the Washington Post, Esper sent a classified letter to the White House prior to his termination, warning that “conditions on the ground were not yet right” for a full withdrawal from Afghanistan, “citing the ongoing violence, possible dangers to the remaining troops in the event of a rapid pullout, potential damage to alliances and apprehension about undercutting the negotiations.”
Trump vowed to bring troops home
President Trump has vowed to bring American troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq since he first took office. Yet, NBC News noted that “the move still stops short of Trump’s pledge to end America’s longest war. Just last month, the president tweeted that he wanted to pull out all remaining troops in Afghanistan by Christmas.”
The timing of Trump’s additional drawdown has been met with mixed reactions on Capitol Hill, even from the president’s own party.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warned Monday about a “premature American exit” from Afghanistan amid rumors of plans for a reduction of troops, while Kentucky’s junior Sen. Rand Paul tweeted, “What brings Big Government Republicans and Democrats together? Support for Endless War. After 19 years in Afghanistan, it’s high time to bring our troops home!”