Washington, Nov 17 (efe-epa).- US Acting Defense Secretary Christopher C. Miller on Tuesday officially announced a partial withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan scheduled for Jan. 15, 2021, along with a lesser number to be removed from Iraq.
A total of 2,500 US troops will remain in Afghanistan after the drawdown along with a similar number in Iraq.
Miller remarked at the Pentagon that the decision was not a change in policy and is consistent with US strategic objectives.
Currently, the US has about 4,500 troops in Afghanistan and 3,000 in Iraq, and thus the drawdowns will be approximately 2,000 from the former and 500 from the latter.
Miller said that this decision fulfills outgoing President Donald Trump’s pledge to bring US forces home from the lengthy wars and military actions overseas, but many Republican lawmakers and US allies are warning that withdrawing the forces before conditions are right and agreed-on requirements met is not prudent.
The substantial troop reduction ordered by Trump will take place just five days before President-elect Joe Biden is to be inaugurated. So far, the president has refused to concede or acknowledge his Nov. 3 election loss to Biden, even though it is clear that the former vice president has enough electoral votes to have won the presidency.
In a noteworthy omission, although Miller said that US military commanders had agreed to carry out the withdrawal, he did not say that Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley or other senior military officers had endorsed or even recommended it.
The acting defense chief did say that “If the forces of terror, instability, division and hate begin a deliberate campaign to disrupt our efforts, we stand ready to apply the capabilities required to thwart them.”
Trump summarily fired Pentagon chief Mark Esper on Nov. 9, a decision that had been expected ever since the top defense official last summer opposed the president’s plan to deploy the military to suppress protests against police violence that were erupting around the country.
At that time, and in the same Twitter post in which he fired Esper, Trump announced his appointment of Miller to be acting defense chief. Up until that time, he had served as US counterterrorism director.
In late February, the Taliban and the US signed an historic agreement in Doha whereby the US announced the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan over a 14-month period, and at the same time the insurgents promised not to use Afghan territory to provide any support for terrorist activities in the future.
In addition, the Taliban promised to free about 1,000 members of the Afghan security forces in exchange for Kabul doing the same for another 5,000 captured insurgents, a process that after a series of disagreements was completed in September, with that result leading that same month to the start of much-longed-for intra-Afghan talks in Doha.
In Afghanistan, however, military leaders and government officials have said repeatedly that the Taliban have not yet fulfilled requirements to reduce their attacks on Afghan government forces, a precondition for the withdrawal of US troops, and the plan also does not actually carry out Trump’s promise to “end” US wars abroad or to base troop withdrawals on “conditions on the ground” rather than on an arbitrary timetable.