Friday, 4 December 2020

United States to slash troop levels in Iraq, Afghanistan

REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton/File Photo

WASHINGTON: Donald Trump vowed that he will sharply reduce the number of US forces deployed in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 by mid-January, the Pentagon announced on Tuesday, but did not commit to a full withdrawal from the country’s longest war after facing fierce criticism from at home and abroad.

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.

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.

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