• Tuesday, Nov 29, 2022
  • Last Update : 09:54 am

Trump to cut troop levels in Afghanistan, stops short of full withdrawal

  • Published at 02:42 am November 18th, 2020
US troops Afghanistan
File photo: A US Marine talks with Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers during a training in Helmand province, Afghanistan, July 5, 2017 Reuters

Some US military officials had been urging Trump to keep US troop levels at around 4,500 for now

President Donald Trump will sharply reduce the number of US forces in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 by mid-January, the Pentagon announced on Tuesday, stopping short of a threatened full withdrawal from America’s longest war after fierce opposition from allies at home and abroad.

Trump’s decision to limit himself to a partial withdrawal was first reported by Reuters on Monday but still triggered a rebuke from senior Republicans and Democrats who fear it will undermine security and hurt fragile peace talks with the Taliban.

Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller, who Trump installed last week after abruptly firing Mark Esper, confirmed the Afghan drawdown and also outlined a modest withdrawal of forces from Iraq to reduce troop levels from 3,000 to 2,500.

“By January 15, 2021, our forces, their size in Afghanistan, will be 2,500 troops. Our force size in Iraq will also be 2,500 by that same date,” Miller told reporters.

About the same time, the top Senate Republican, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, cautioned against any major changes in US defense or foreign policy in the next couple of months, including any precipitous troop drawdowns in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“It is extremely important here in the next couple of months not to have any earthshaking changes in regard to defense or foreign policy,” McConnell, who opposed a pullout, told reporters.

Also read: Senate chief blasts Trump troop withdrawal plans

Trump is due to leave office on January 20 after losing this month’s presidential election to Democrat Joe Biden. Critics slammed Trump for timing the withdrawal to his own calendar as opposed to some kind of breakthrough in Afghanistan that would justify a major drawdown.

Biden’s transition team did not respond to a request for comment on Trump’s troop cuts.

The top Republican on the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, Mac Thornberry, also slammed the troop cut as a “mistake,” as did other prominent Republicans and Democrats.

“Further reductions in Afghanistan will also undercut negotiations there; the Taliban has done nothing – met no condition – that would justify this cut,” Thornberry said.

The top Democrat on the committee, however, Representative Adam Smith, came out in support of the move - even as he cautioned that it needed to “be responsibly and carefully executed to ensure stability in the region.”

But those plans have yet to be hammered out in detail, officials say, leaving questions unanswered about which troops to withdraw and the impact on a mission that ranges from advising and supporting Afghan forces to carrying out counter-terrorism strikes against al Qaeda and Islamic State militants.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, said it was concerning that Trump’s withdrawal was being carried out without close coordination with NATO and that a hasty withdrawal risks making Afghanistan a platform for terrorism once again.

File photo: US President Donald Trump salutes the transfer cases holding the remains of US Army soldier Sergeant Javier Jaguar Gutierrez, who was killed in the Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan, during a dignified transfer at Dover Air Force Base, in Dover, Delaware, US February 10, 2020. REUTERS

Al Qaeda concerns

US and Afghan officials are warning of troubling levels of violence by Taliban insurgents and persistent Taliban links to al Qaeda.

It was those ties that triggered US military intervention in 2001 following the al Qaeda September 11 attacks on the United States. Thousands of American and allied troops have died in fighting in Afghanistan.

Some US military officials had been urging Trump to keep US troop levels at around 4,500 for now.

The withdrawal stops short of his pledge on October 7, when Trump said on Twitter here "We should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas!"

That threat had alarmed US military officials, US allies and lawmakers, who had fiercely opposed an abrupt, unilateral pullout.

Rick Olson, a former US special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said that the remaining 2,500 troops still give the United States some leverage in advancing peace efforts, but “it would have been better to have left them at 4,500.”

Also read: Trump asked for options for attacking Iran but held off

“Zero would have been truly awful, while 2,500 is maybe okay, but it’s probably not very stable,” he said. “I would say 2,500 is probably stable as long as the US-Taliban peace holds. But that may not happen because the Taliban have not done a reduction in violence, as they committed to do.”

Ronald Neumann, a former US ambassador to Kabul, cautioned that “if we are pulling out faster than the withdrawal schedule, there’s no incentive for the Taliban to negotiate.”

The withdrawals could hand Biden a new set of challenges when he takes office.

Taliban militants, fighting against the US-backed government in Kabul, have called on the United States to stick to a February agreement with the Trump administration to withdraw US troops by May, subject to certain security guarantees.

Violence has been rising throughout Afghanistan, with the Taliban attacking provincial capitals, in some case prompting US airstrikes.

Marine General Kenneth McKenzie, head of the US Central Command, called that violence the “greatest obstacle to moving forward with the peace process.”

“The sheer volume of Taliban initiated attacks against the people of Afghanistan is not indicative of an organization that’s serious about peace,” McKenzie said in a podcast released this week.

In Iraq, four rockets fell in the Green Zone in Baghdad on Tuesday, an Iraqi military statement said. The fortified zone houses government buildings and foreign missions.

Facebook 50
blogger sharing button blogger
buffer sharing button buffer
diaspora sharing button diaspora
digg sharing button digg
douban sharing button douban
email sharing button email
evernote sharing button evernote
flipboard sharing button flipboard
pocket sharing button getpocket
github sharing button github
gmail sharing button gmail
googlebookmarks sharing button googlebookmarks
hackernews sharing button hackernews
instapaper sharing button instapaper
line sharing button line
linkedin sharing button linkedin
livejournal sharing button livejournal
mailru sharing button mailru
medium sharing button medium
meneame sharing button meneame
messenger sharing button messenger
odnoklassniki sharing button odnoklassniki
pinterest sharing button pinterest
print sharing button print
qzone sharing button qzone
reddit sharing button reddit
refind sharing button refind
renren sharing button renren
skype sharing button skype
snapchat sharing button snapchat
surfingbird sharing button surfingbird
telegram sharing button telegram
tumblr sharing button tumblr
twitter sharing button twitter
vk sharing button vk
wechat sharing button wechat
weibo sharing button weibo
whatsapp sharing button whatsapp
wordpress sharing button wordpress
xing sharing button xing
yahoomail sharing button yahoomail