US will withdraw thousands of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq by January

Defense officials have cautioned that a withdraw could provoke attacks on US forces and assets and alienate allies in the region 

Graig Graziosi
Tuesday 17 November 2020 21:07 GMT
Mitch McConnell rebukes Trump's planned Afghanistan troop withdrawal

Acting Secretary of State Chris Miller said during a press briefing that the US would withdraw thousands of its troops in Afghanistan and Iraq by January.

The announcement came less than an hour before a rocket attack in Iraq targeting the US embassy in Baghdad.

By 15 Jan., only 2,500 US military members will be left in each country. 

Mr Miller said the move was consistent with the nation’s “strategic objectives,” but critics of fast-moving troop withdraws fear it will hinder the ongoing peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. 

Mr Miller refused to take questions following the press briefing.

The force reduction was telegraphed Friday in a memo sent to military leaders on Friday night.

According to McClatchy, which obtained the memo, Mr Miller said the US was at a critical point in its role as a transition force.

"This is the critical phase in which we transition our efforts from a leadership to supporting role," Mr Miller wrote. "We are not a people of perpetual war - it is the antithesis of everything for which we stand and for which our ancestors fought. All wars must end."

In the memo, Mr Miller said he respected the sacrifices and the work done by servicemembers, and said "ending wars requires compromise and partnership."

"We met the challenge; we have it our all. Now, it's time to come home," he wrote.

Mr Miller took over after Mr Trump fired former Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper.

The Washington Post reported that Mr Esper issued a memo earlier this month that said it was the unanimous opinion of the entire US military's chain of command that the US should not draw down its troop presence in Afghanistan any further until "conditions were met."

Sources speaking to CNN about the memo believe it may have been a major contributor to Mr Trump's decision to fire the military leader.

Critics of the drawdown fear it may alienate US allies in the region and provoke attacks on US troops and assets from within the countries.

Further, it may leave the Afghan military vulnerable, as it relies on US air support and logistics to operate. This could take pressure off the Taliban to uphold its end of agreements made with the government, or provoke to Taliban to withdraw from talks altogether.

Mr Trump replaced Mr Esper and a number of senior officials in the US Defense Department with loyalists. While some observers feared the move was intended to remove barriers to the president using the military to secure his challenge to the election results, others believe it is more likely that he is settling scores and ensuring he can accomplish what he wants unhindered prior to his exit in January. 

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in