Trump administration to cut troop levels in Afghanistan despite Pentagon warnings

Nellie Chapman
November 16, 2020

Newly appointed Pentagon chief Christopher Miller signalled on Saturday (Nov 14) that he could accelerate the withdrawal of USA troops from Afghanistan and the Middle East, saying, "It's time to come home". We met the challenge; We gave it our all.

Miller took over this week after former Defense Secretary Mark Esper was sacked by President Trump via a Twitter message on Monday.

Trump has been pushing for the withdrawal of his troops from Afghanistan by Christmas during his campaign.

Mr Trump, who lost to Democrat Joe Biden in the Nov 3 election, has been pressing to pull United States forces out of both countries since he came into office four years ago. In an interview with Defense One, retiring diplomat Jim Jeffrey admits that while Trump's policies "are quite popular" among USA allies in the Middle East, his team was "always playing shell games to not make clear to our leadership how many troops we had" in Syria.

They included ending the 19-year-old Afghan engagement by Christmas, an ambitious target that opponents of the country's longest war welcomed but which Trump's critics warned could be reckless given ongoing militant violence plaguing Afghanistan. "Now, it's time to come home", the acting defense secretary said in his first remarks to the United States armed forces.

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Any such action would have to come in the 67 days before Mr Biden takes office on Jan 20. Thousands of American and allied troops have died in fighting in Afghanistan since then. "Let's go tomorrow.' It has always been a conditions-based effort and that effort continues", the senior U.S. defence official said, without explicitly detailing future drawdown plans. And they also warn that USA forces should remain in the country to keep Islamic State militants in check.

A deal struck between US and Taliban negotiators in February calls for the United States to withdraw all troops by May 2021 if the Taliban meets certain conditions, including making a break with al-Qaeda.

He said that the USA is committed to defeating Al Qaeda, 19 years after the Sept 11 attacks on the United States, and is "on the verge of defeating" the group.

Those in Afghanistan will be cut from 4,500-5,000 down to 2,500 by mid-January, officials said.

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