President Donald Trump will sharply reduce the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 by mid-January, the Pentagon announced, stopping short of a threatened full withdrawal from America’s longest war after fierce opposition from allies at home and abroad.
Trump’s decision to limit himself to a partial withdrawal was first reported by Reuters on Monday but still triggered a rebuke from senior Republicans and Democrats who fear it will undermine security and hurt fragile peace talks with the Taliban.
Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller, who Trump installed last week after abruptly firing Mark Esper, confirmed the Afghan drawdown and also outlined a modest withdrawal of forces from Iraq to reduce troop levels from 3,000 to 2,500.
“By Jan. 15, 2021, our forces, their size in Afghanistan, will be 2,500 troops. Our force size in Iraq will also be 2,500 by that same date,” Miller told reporters.
About the same time, the top Senate Republican, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, cautioned against any major changes in U.S. defense or foreign policy in the next couple of months, including any precipitous troop drawdowns in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“It is extremely important here in the next couple of months not to have any earthshaking changes in regard to defense or foreign policy,” McConnell, who opposed a pullout, told reporters.
Trump is due to leave office on Jan. 20 after losing this month’s presidential election to Democrat Joe Biden. Critics slammed Trump for timing the withdrawal to his own calendar as opposed to some kind of breakthrough in Afghanistan that would justify a major drawdown.