Major U.S. Troop Drawdowns Expected In Afghanistan After Firing Of Defense Secretary

Major U.S. Troop Drawdowns Expected In Afghanistan After Firing Of Defense Secretary

Major U.S. Troop Drawdowns Expected In Afghanistan After Firing Of Defense Secretary

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US Vice President Mike Pence poses for photos with troops after addressing them in a hangar at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan on December 21, 2017.

AFP via Getty Images

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Topline

The Pentagon is preparing for President Donald Trump to cut the number of remaining U.S. troops in Afghanistan by more than 40% over the next two months, several news outlets reported Monday — a major withdrawal that was reportedly opposed by former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, whom Trump fired last week.

Key Facts

Trump is expected to almost halve the number of troops in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500, the Associated Press, CNN and the Wall Street Journal reported Monday, well below a peak of around 100,000 troops in 2011.

The president is also reportedly looking to cut troop levels in Iraq from 3,000 to 2,500, below the country’s 2007 peak of more than 160,000.

The Pentagon sent out a “warning order” instructing military commanders to prepare for these drawdowns to take place by Jan. 15, just five days before Trump leaves office, sources told CNN.

Esper’s successor, acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller, foreshadowed the decision Friday in a somewhat confusing letter to U.S. personnel, telling them “this war isn’t over” but also insisting “it’s time to come home.”

The White House referred a request for comment to the Pentagon, and the Pentagon did not immediately respond to questions.

Crucial Quote

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

Key Background

In recent months, Trump has reduced troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan, driven partly by political pressure in Iraq and a landmark February deal with the Taliban that involved a gradual withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan. The president is especially eager to bring an end to the war in Afghanistan, a protracted conflict against the Taliban and related extremist groups that began weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks. But some experts and military officials reportedly worry an abrupt withdrawal there could cause a tenuous security situation to fall into disarray. Violence flared earlier this year after the Taliban launched a new military offensive against Afghan forces in part of the country, and negotiations with the Taliban showed signs of stress as both the United States and the insurgent group traded accusations of violating their deal from earlier this year. Still, Trump tweeted with little warning last month that all U.S. troops would return from Afghanistan by Christmas, a rapid timeline that some military officials seemed to refute openly. National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien later said the administration was aiming for 2,500 troops in Afghanistan by the end of the year.

Tangent

Esper urged Trump this month not to reduce troop levels in Afghanistan any further, the Washington Post reported. He warned a premature withdrawal could destabilize the country and endanger any remaining U.S. troops. Trump abruptly fired Esper shortly after he expressed this view, though Esper has had a rocky relationship with Trump for months, and it’s unclear whether his dismissal was due to a disagreement on Afghanistan.

 

This article was written by Joe Walsh from Forbes and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.

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