Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller formally announced troop drawdowns in Afghanistan and Iraq on Tuesday. Miller said that by January 15th 2021, there will be 2,500 troops in Afghanistan and 2,500 troops in Iraq. There are currently about 4,500 US troops in Afghanistan and 3,000 in Iraq.
Miller’s announcement confirmed a story published by CNN on Monday that said the Pentagon was preparing for the order. Other reports suggested President Trump was also planning to withdraw troops from Somalia, but that was not mentioned in Miller’s announcement.
The announcement comes after President Trump’s Pentagon shake-up that started with the firing of Mark Esper. The overhaul was rumored to be related to disagreements over troop withdrawals. In October, President Trump said all US troops in Afghanistan “should” be home by Christmas but the declaration never turned into an order.
The US-Taliban peace deal paved the way for all foreign forces to leave Afghanistan by Spring 2021, but US officials regularly stress the withdrawal is “conditions-based.” National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien has previously said the plan was to bring numbers down to 2,500 in Afghanistan by early 2021.
The announcement squanders any hope of President Trump actually ending the war in Afghanistan before January 20th, when Joe Biden is expected to be inaugurated. Miller said the drawdowns do “not equate to a change in US policy or objectives.”