Pentagon signals withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and Iraq

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The Pentagon has called on US commanders to prepare to withdraw an additional 2,500 troops from Afghanistan and Iraq, honoring the Trump administration’s commitment to pull back and end America’s “eternal wars.”

A defense official told the Financial Times that a “warning order” had recently been issued to reduce the number of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq by 2,000 and 500, respectively. There are currently 4,500 troops in Afghanistan and 3,000 in Iraq.

The verbal instruction to prepare to reduce the number of troops by January 15, which was first reported by CNN, came to an end before a final decision to withdraw from the White House, known as of “execution order”.

“This is a harbinger of an execution order that will direct these changes,” the defense official said, adding that a formal order was expected by the end of this week.

US military commanders have repeatedly resisted reducing troops in Afghanistan, arguing they would be unable to do their job with so few people. The Pentagon did not respond to a request for comment, and the White House National Security Council declined to comment.

Donald Trump, who refused to concede the US presidential election after his loss to rival Joe Biden, campaigned on a promise to bring US soldiers home.

Video: U.S. election 2020: Joe Biden’s foreign policy explained

If the cut were completed on January 15, it would be more difficult for Mr. Biden to go back, as he is not expected to succeed Mr. Trump as president until inauguration day, five days later. Similar warning orders have been issued in the past but have not resulted in troop withdrawals.

“Management is arbitrary and capricious and it is now up to us to determine what [Mr Trump] means, ”the US defense official said. There was no clear indication of how the location or mission of US troops on the ground would be affected, the official added.

Last week, Mr. Trump sacked Mark Esper as defense secretary and appointed Chris Miller, a retired military officer who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, on an interim basis. Mr. Trump has also placed several officials who are considered loyal to him in high-level roles in the Pentagon.

Mitch McConnell, the leader of the Republican majority in the Senate, on Monday rejected the withdrawal plan, saying that a premature exit of the United States from Afghanistan “would embolden the Taliban” and hurt the American allies.

“A disorganized retreat would jeopardize the record of the major successes this administration has worked to muster,” he said, adding that only a “small minority” in Congress would support a rapid withdrawal.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned on Tuesday that – if no member of the military alliance wanted to stay in Afghanistan longer than necessary – the “price to pay for leaving too early or in an uncoordinated manner could be very Student”.

“Afghanistan risks becoming again a platform for international terrorists to plan and organize attacks against our homeland,” he said in a statement. “And Isis could rebuild in Afghanistan the caliphate of terror he lost in Syria and Iraq.”

Mr Stoltenberg added that he was in close contact with the United States and other alliance members of 30 NATO countries on plans for Afghanistan. He said hundreds of thousands of soldiers from Europe and beyond had “stood side by side” with US troops, while more than 1,000 of them had “paid the ultimate price”.

Mr Trump wrote in a tweet last month that all troops should be “home before Christmas”. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and senior military adviser to Mr. Trump, later told NPR that the continued US withdrawal would be “conditions based.”

The United States has already reduced the number of troops in Afghanistan to 4,500 from 14,000 last year, after the Trump administration struck a deal with the Taliban in February.

This agreement demanded a reduction in the violence of the Islamist group against US forces in exchange for force withdrawals. It was also based on intra-Afghan talks to end the war, which started late and failed.

In his first address to the entire US Department of Defense, Miller wrote that he was one of those “war-weary” and it was “time to go home.”

But in the same letter, which was sent on Saturday, he argued that the United States must avoid “the past strategic mistake of not seeing the fight through to the end”, adding that it was “on the verge of To defeat al-Qaeda and its associates.

Bradley Bowman, an Afghanistan veteran at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, said national security interests rather than “the political calendar” should determine America’s military posture in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He is among some analysts who believe that the main beneficiaries of a premature withdrawal from Iraq would be Iran and Isis, and that the complete withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan could bring victory to the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Michael O’Hanlon, analyst at the Brookings Institution, said if there was no magic number, he feared reducing troops to 2,500 in Afghanistan, calling such a withdrawal “too fast and too big” . He said it would be difficult to protect the remaining military bases with skeletal forces.

Additional reporting by Michael Peel in Brussels

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