The White House will bring home 2,500 troops from Afghanistan and Iraq by the end of the year against the guidance of top military officials, a drawdown order that reduces the American presence by about a third, from 4,500 to 2,500 in Afghanistan and 3,000 to 2,500 in Iraq, according to a U.S. official.
NPR's Tom Bowman reported the move is opposed by senior military leaders, given Afghanistan's fragile state. Peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban have seemingly stalled, and violent attacks have risen 50% in recent months. Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, have advised the troop reduction be pushed to the spring, Bowman reported.
The cutbacks can only be so surprising. National security adviser Robert O'Brien had called the play one month ago when he said the number of troops in Afghanistan would drop to 2,500. Milley, in an interview with NPR at the time, said that number was "speculation" and that the United States was attempting to wind down these wars "responsibly."
O'Brien countered that President Trump had approved the number.
Trump campaigned in 2016 on bringing the U.S. military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan to an end. Last month, the president tweeted, "We should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas!"
We should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 7, 2020
The withdrawal will likely have little effect on the ground, Bowman reported, since U.S. forces will still be training elements of the Afghan military. U.S. airstrikes against Taliban forces will also continue since forces fly out of Kuwait and other countries in the region.