On Saturday, The Washington Post published a story that cited two anonymous officials who said former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper sent a classified memo to the White House this month warning about additional troop cuts in Afghanistan.
According to the officials, Esper said conditions on the ground were not yet right, citing increased violence. Esper also warned of damaging alliances or undercutting the peace process.
Administration officials have told several media outlets that President Trump’s Pentagon shake-up, that started with the firing of Esper, was done because of disagreements related to troop withdrawals.
The US-Taliban peace deal signed in February set a timeline for all foreign forces to leave Afghanistan by Spring 2021, although US officials regularly stress the withdrawal is “conditions-based.”
Currently, there are about 4,500 US troops in Afghanistan. President Trump recently said in a tweet that all US soldiers in Afghanistan “should” be home by Christmas, but so far, no order has been given.
National Security Robert O’Brien said last month that there should be about 2,500 troops left in Afghanistan by early 2021, but it is not clear if the military is actually working towards that goal.
A memo sent on Friday by Esper’s replacement suggests he could have been put in the position to complete last-minute pull-outs. Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller sent a letter that addressed his new staff for the first time where he spoke out against “perpetual war.”
“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,” the memo reads. “Ending wars requires compromise and partnership. We met the challenge; we gave it our all. Now, it’s time to come home.”
The appointment of retired Army Col. Douglas Macgregor as Miller’s advisor is another sign that the Pentagon firings are related to troop withdrawals. Macgregor has been outspoken in his belief that the US should immediately withdraw from Afghanistan and has said the US should “run” not walk out of the country.