US military anticipates Trump will issue order to plan for further troop withdrawals from Afghanistan and Iraq
(CNN)US military commanders are anticipating that a formal order will be given by President Donald Trump as soon as this week to begin a further withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and Iraq before Trump leaves office on January 20, according to two US officials familiar.
The Pentagon has issued a notice to commanders known as a “warning order” to begin planning to drawdown the number of troops in Afghanistan to 2,500 troops and 2,500 in Iraq by Jan 15, the officials said. Currently there are approximately 4,500 US troops in Afghanistan and 3,000 troops in Iraq.
While Monday’s news indicates that the Pentagon appears ready to remove thousands more US troops from Afghanistan and Iraq, it also suggests that Trump may fall short of fulfilling one of his core promises to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan before he leaves office.
On October 7 Trump tweeted: “We should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas!”
Then-Secretary of Defense Mark Esper sent a classified memo earlier this month to the White House asserting that it was the unanimous recommendation of the chain of command that the US not draw down its troop presence in Afghanistan any further until conditions were met, sources familiar with the memo tell CNN.The assessment from the chain of command — Esper, US Central Command leader Marine Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie and commander of NATO’s mission in Afghanistan Gen. Austin Miller — stated that the necessary conditions had not been met. Others agreed, sources tell CNN, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley.
The memo is believed to have been one of the main reasons why Trump fired Esper last week.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did not criticize Trump directly Monday while discussing the drawdown plans but warned of the potential ramifications of a rapid withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, saying it would “hurt our allies.”
“We’re playing a limited — limited — but important role in defending American national security and American interests against terrorists who would like nothing more than for the most powerful force for good in the world to simply pick up our ball and go home,” he said in a speech from the Senate floor.
“There’s no American who does not wish the war in Afghanistan against terrorists and their enablers had already been conclusively won,” he said. “But that does not change the actual choice before us now. A rapid withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan now would hurt our allies and delight — delight — the people who wish us harm.
The decision to pull additional troops out of Iraq comes as the Trump administration has moved to reduce the US military’s footprint there in recent months.
The US commander in the Middle East announced a drawdown of US troops in Iraq from 5,200 to 3,000 in September.
In March, US forces began pulling back from bases across Iraq, turning them over to Iraqi security partners. At the time, Pentagon officials insisted that the base hand-offs were part of a long-planned consolidation that reflected the success of the anti-ISIS fight — not concerns over the ongoing rocket attacks by Iran-linked proxy militias.