A major overhaul at the Pentagon that was started with the firing of former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper could be part of President Trump’s plan to carry out last-minute troop withdrawals from countries like Afghanistan, sources have told several media outlets.
A Trump administration official told The Washington Post late Tuesday night that President Trump is still determined to withdraw troops around the world before leaving office. “He sees the Pentagon as the leader of the resistance to his agenda,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Another administration official told the Post that the shake-up that was ordered by the White House coincided with debates about the pace of troop withdrawals from places like Afghanistan and Somalia.
The Intercept published a story on Wednesday that cited a Trump administration official who made similar claims. The official said the overhaul was planned for months, and more firings are expected. “The president is taking back control of DoD. It’s a rebirth of foreign policy. This is Trump foreign policy,” the official said.
Lee Fang at The Intercept writes: “The personnel changes, the official claimed, would help clear the way for a more loyal Pentagon apparatus to carry out Trump’s goals, including the last-minute withdrawal of troops from foreign conflicts.”
Sources told CNN’s Jake Tapper that the firings could have happened because Esper and his team were pushing back on a withdrawal from Afghanistan.
In October, President Trump said on Twitter that all US troops in Afghanistan “should” be home by Christmas. But so far, the tweet has not turned into an order. Current troop numbers in Afghanistan are around 4,000, and National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien has said the US is on track to have 2,500 troops left in Afghanistan by early 2021.
Bloomberg reported in October that President Trump wants to bring hundreds of US troops from Somalia. According to the report, the Pentagon began drafting plans for a withdrawal, and high-level discussions over the potential move took place. But so far, like Afghanistan, no orders have been given to remove troops from Somalia.
Axios confirmed on Wednesday that Retired Army Col. Douglas Macgregor has been hired as a senior advisor to acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller, who replaced Esper. Macgregor is outspoken in his belief that the US should immediately withdraw from Afghanistan. In a 2019 interview, he said the US should “run” not walk out of Afghanistan.