It’s official: The U.S. military is drawing down to 2,500 troops in Afghanistan and 2,500 service members in Iraq before President Donald Trump leaves office, Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller announced on Tuesday.
There are currently about 4,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and roughly 3,000 troops in Iraq.
“This is consistent with our established plans and strategic objectives supported by the American people and does not equate to a change in U.S. policy or objectives,” Miller announced at the Pentagon.
“With the blessings of Providence, in the coming year we will finish this generational war and bring our men and women home,” Miller continued. “We will protect our children from the heavy burden and toll of perpetual war and we will honor the sacrifices made in service to peace and stability in Afghanistan, Iraq and around the world.”
After speaking for roughly 10 minutes, Miller left the podium, ignoring shouted questions from reporters.
Prior to Miller’s announcement, a defense official told reporters on condition of anonymity that the conditions in Afghanistan allowed the troop drawdown there, although he repeatedly refused to say what those conditions were.
Violence in Afghanistan remains high, with “enemy-initiated attacks” up 50% between July and September, according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction’s most recent report.
Tuesday’s announcement came after several indications by Miller that the U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan would be accelerated.
In a Nov. 16 memo to the force, Miller wrote that one of his goals is to, “Bring the current war to an end in a responsible manner that guarantees the security of our citizens.”
Miller did not specify which war he was referring to. In a previous message to the Defense Department, he wrote that the struggle against Al Qaeda is not over, but the U.S. military will transition from leading the fight to a supporting role.
“All wars must end,” Miller wrote in the Nov. 13 memo. “Ending wars requires compromise and partnership. We met the challenge; we gave it our all. Now, it’s time to come home.”
Miller’s words echo President Donald Trump, who has often vowed to end the Post 9/11 wars. In October, Trump tweeted that all U.S. troops in Afghanistan should be home by Christmas.
While the most recent drawdown does not meet that goal, it does mean that Trump will end his time in office with fewer troops in Iraq and Afghanistan than when he took office.
It also means that the U.S. government has dropped the last pretenses that the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan will be based on conditions on the ground. Shortly before he was fired, former Defense Secretary Mark Esper had warned the White House that the security situation in Afghanistan was not right for drawing down below 4,500 troops there, according to the Washington Post and CNN.
When President-elect Joe Biden takes office in January, he will have to decide whether to continue the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan, which is expected to be completed by May.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Tuesday that the NATO mission to train and advise Afghan security forces will continue despite the drawdown of U.S. troops,
“We are also committed to funding them through 2024,” Tolo News quoted Stoltenberg as saying.