Trump to cut troop levels in Afghanistan, but stops short of full withdrawal

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – President Donald Trump will sharply reduce the number of US forces in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 before he leaves office, the Pentagon announced on Tuesday (Nov 17), stopping short of the complete withdrawal Trump threatened to carry out by Christmas.

Trump’s decision to limit himself to a partial withdrawal was first reported by Reuters on Monday and has triggered warnings from critics who say it will undermine security and hurt fragile peace talks with the Taleban.

Acting Defence Secretary Christopher Miller, who Trump installed last week after firing Mark Esper, confirmed the drawdown and also outlined a modest withdrawal of forces in Iraq that will reduce troop levels there 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 said, without taking questions from reporters.

“This is consistent with our established plans and strategic objectives, supported by the American people, and does not equate to a change in US policy or objectives.”

Moments later, the top Republican in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, warned against any major changes in US defence or foreign policy in the next couple of months – including major troop drawdowns in Afghanistan and Iraq.

US and Afghan officials are warning of troubling levels of violence by Taleban insurgents and persistent Taleban links to Al-Qaeda.

It was those ties that triggered US military intervention in 2001 following the Al-Qaeda Sept 11 attacks on the United States.

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Thousands of American and allied troops have died in fighting in Afghanistan since then.

Some US military officials had been urging Trump to keep US troop levels at around 4,500 for now.

The withdrawal stops short of his pledge on Oct 7, when Trump said on Twitter: “We should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas!”

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