The United States has announced to reduce the number of American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq to 2,500 each by January 15 next year, which drew sharp reaction from influential lawmakers across the aisle.
The decision, announced by Acting US Defence Secretary Christopher C Miller on Tuesday, is in line with incumbent President Donald Trump’s campaign promise to bring the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to a successful and responsible conclusion and to bring service members home.
The move was immediately opposed by the opposition Democratic Party of President-elect Joe Biden, whose lawmakers described it as a threat to national security. Several Republican lawmakers too opposed the move.
“I am formally announcing that we will implement President Trump’s orders to continue our repositioning of forces from those two countries. By January 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 said during a press conference, adding that this is consistent with the Trump administration’s established plans and strategic objectives.
The US currently has a little over 4,500 troops in Afghanistan.
In a brief interaction with reporters at the White House, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien said the remaining troops would be defending US diplomats and facilities.
“By May, it is President Trump’s hope that they will come home safely and, in their entirety,” he said.
Miller said that this decision by the president is based on continuous engagement with his national security cabinet over the past several months, including ongoing discussions with him and his colleagues across the United States government.
The transition team of Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris did not immediately respond to a question on the announcement on troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. Top Democratic lawmakers, however, were quick to slam it.
“The Trump policy has been so erratic, almost based on whim, what happens when the president rolls out of bed each morning and how he feels,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters at the Capitol Hill.
Senator Tammy Duckworth said that this is the wrong way to do, as it will leave behind a huge amount of American military hardware for the Taliban to use.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters that it is extremely important in the next couple of months not to have any earthshaking changes in defence and foreign policy.
“A precipitous drawdown in either Afghanistan or Iraq would be a mistake,” he said.
Republican senator Mitt Romney urged the Trump administration to reconsider and reverse this “politically-motivated” decision and avoid worsening America’s national security challenges.
“In Afghanistan, if we want to continue to move forward with a peace discussion with the Taliban, I think we have to have a presence. And if we want to have any chance of enforcing a peace agreement that involves the Taliban, we have to have a presence,” said senator Roy Blunt.
Senator Jim Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that he looks forward to receiving detailed briefings on the plan from the Pentagon and the commander on the ground.
“As we evaluate the situation in Afghanistan and coordinate with our allies, we must ensure that our strategy and posture reflect the conditions on the ground,” he said.
Inhofe said that Trump’s South Asia strategy has been extremely successful, and his administration has scored major counterterrorism wins across the region, including taking out terrorist henchmen al-Baghdadi, Soleimani and al-Rimi.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said that the announcement is a hasty move intended to undermine the incoming Biden administration.
“It ought to surprise no one that this comes just days after President Trump fired top Pentagon officials who stood against his counterproductive plans,” he alleged.
Senator Dianne Feinstein alleged that Trump’s last-minute foreign policy moves are threatening national security and could have lasting effects well beyond his final months in office.
“This is especially worrying as the president continues to obstruct a peaceful, timely transition from his administration to President-elect Biden’s,” she said.
Republican senator Josh Hawley welcomed the move, saying that American people deserve an end to this war.
Meanwhile, the House Armed Services Committee announced a hearing on Afghanistan on November 20.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees, urged the Trump administration to carefully reconsider any decision to hastily withdraw US troops from Afghanistan and Iraq and to bear in mind the rule of law, US security and the sanctity of US alliances.
“We cannot allow these countries to, yet again, become a safe haven for terrorists looking to do Americans harm. Further, we cannot leave NATO and our partners in the dark. Any withdrawal must be conditions-based. Congress passed existing laws to ensure that any withdrawal going forward is not based on arbitrary timelines or political considerations,” he said.
“The war in Afghanistan must end. Americans have carried the burden and suffered the costs of this war for two decades. We must do so in a deliberate way that both protects our troops and keeps faith with the allies that came to our aid after 9/11 and still serve with us to this day,” Democratic Congressman Jason Crow said.
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