A day after President Donald Trump tweeted that all U.S. troops in Afghanistan should be home by the end of the year, the silence coming from top military leaders was so intense that one could practically hear a mouse fart.
On Wednesday, the commander-in-chief tweeted: “We should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas!”
The fact that Trump used the word “should” rather than “will” makes it unclear whether he had just ordered the U.S. military to withdraw all of its troops from Afghanistan.
Under an agreement struck with the Taliban in November, all U.S. troops are expected to leave Afghanistan in April 2021 under certain conditions such as the Taliban fighting terrorist organizations, such as ISIS and Al Qaeda.
Trump’s tweet appears to indicate that he has accelerated the timeline for pulling all U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the U.S. military’s top leaders are mute on the subject.
Spokespeople for Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr., head of U.S. Central Command, and Army Gen. Austin Miller, who leads all U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan, all referred questions about Trump’s tweet to the White House.
A senior administration official had nothing to add to Trump’s tweet other than reiterating that the president has made clear several times that he will bring all U.S. troops home from Afghanistan soon.
Trump’s announcement on Wednesday came shortly after Reuters reported that National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien had said the U.S. military would draw down to 2,500 troops in Afghanistan next year.
Right now, the U.S. military is completing a drawdown from roughly 8,600 troops to about 4,500 service members in Afghanistan by November.
Both Trump and O’Brien’s comments have shown that conditions on the ground are no longer dictating the pace of the U.S. military’s exit from Afghanistan.
“We’ve already thrown in the towel strategically with this deal with the Taliban,” said Jennifer Cafarella, the national security fellow at the Institute for Understanding War research institution in Washington, D.C. “An accelerated drawdown reflects more of the same apathy toward our partners and the sacrifices they and we have made to date.”
It is unclear what the president’s announcement on Afghanistan means for Esper, whose relationship with Trump reportedly became strained during the summer when the defense secretary publicly opposed deploying active-duty troops to cities that were experiencing widespread protests.
Former Defense Secretary James Mattis famously resigned in December 2018 when Trump initially announced he was pulling all U.S. troops from Syria. The president reversed course only to tweet in October 2019 that U.S. service members in Syria were coming home due to Turkey's invasion of Kurdish-held territory. Trump eventually left a smaller U.S. force in Syria to protect oil fields.
While top U.S. military officials are keeping quiet about what Trump’s tweet means, the Taliban have made clear they believe the president has announced all U.S. troops will be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2020.
“Islamic Emirate [Taliban] welcomes these remarks and considers it a positive step for the implementation of the agreement signed between The IEA and the US,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said a statement on Thursday. “IEA is also committed to the contents of the agreement and hopes for good and positive relations with all countries, including the US, in the future.”