Update (1405ET): As was expected, Donald Trump has ordered the Pentagon to accelerate a drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq to 2,500 in each nation, as the president works to deliver on his longtime pledge to exit from “endless wars” before he leaves office in January.
Bloomberg reports that Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller announced the decision Tuesday at the Pentagon.
In a memorandum issued on Monday, Miller said his goal was to “bring the current war to an end in a responsible manner that guarantees the security of our citizens.”
Miller, a former Green Beret and White House counterterrorism coordinator, said in a memo Friday to all Defense Department employees that “ending wars requires compromise and partnership.”
“We met the challenge; we gave it our all,” Miller said in the memo.
“Now, it‘s time to come home.”
The order would reduce troops from about 4,500 in Afghanistan and from about 3,000 in Iraq less than one week before President-elect Joe Biden takes office.
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As we detailed earlier, it's widely perceived that the spate of firings and resignations in top Pentagon posts, which started with last week's removal of Defense Secretary Mark Esper, was to make way for large-scale troop reductions across the globe, starting with Afghanistan.
It appears a last ditch effort to make good on prior Trump campaign promises. The military is reportedly waiting for a major force reduction order with just weeks to go in Trump's presidency.
"A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the military was expecting formal orders in the coming days to go down to about 2,500 troops in Afghanistan by early next year from around 4,500 currently," reports Reuters this week. NATO officials have also said they expected a major US draw down to come imminently.
Senior administration sources have further been cited as saying Trump's advisers are currently trying to convince the president against taking troops down to "zero" in Afghanistan - which would mark a true and final end to the 19-year long war and occupation.
One senior official told Reuters in defense of Trump's draw down plans:
"The president has acted appropriately in this, has never said: 'Hey, we’re going to zero. Let’s go tomorrow.' It has always been a conditions-based effort and that effort continues," the senior U.S. defense official said, without explicitly detailing future drawdown plans.
New: Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller sets a goal to bring “the current war to an end in a responsible manner” in his 65-day tenure in message to DoD employees,on the heels of the news that Pentagon is moving toward plans to drawdown to 2,500 troops in Afghanistan. pic.twitter.com/DL7jpffY3I— Jack Detsch (@JackDetsch) November 17, 2020
CNN on Monday also cited at least two anonymous US officials to say the Pentagon has already been issued a "warning order" to prepare for sizeable drawdowns.
We should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 7, 2020
The president has previously said he wants US forces in Afghanistan "home by Christmas".
Force reduction is also expected in Iraq, and Trump has lately said he's pressing forward with transferring American troops out of Germany and into other parts of Europe, such as Poland where the US has had an increased presence.