United States 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 has announced according to AlJazeera and other news agencies.
The Pentagon also outlined a modest withdrawal of US forces in Iraq that will reduce troop levels from 3,000 to 2,500.
Acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller said about 2,000 troops would be pulled out of Afghanistan by January 15 and 500 more would come back from Iraq, leaving 2,500 in each country.
The moves reflect Trump’s policy “to bring the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to a successful and responsible conclusion and to bring our brave service members home”, Miller said.
The announcement came days after Trump fired former Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who had insisted on the need to maintain troop levels in Afghanistan to support the Kabul government while it negotiates a peace deal with the Taliban.
The drawdown will have less of an impact in Iraq, Al Jazeera’s Simona Foltyn explained, citing the number of US troops in Iraq that “has gone down to 3,000 as of September this year.”
Al Jazeera’s White House correspondent Kimberly Halkett said the announcement was part of Trump’s attempt to “make good” on campaign promises made in 2016 to end “endless wars” and “preserve his legacy”.
However, the plans – which were first reported on Monday – stopped short of the complete withdrawal Trump had promised to carry out by Christmas.
The new plans will accelerate troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan in Trump’s final days in office, despite arguments from senior military officials in favour of a slower, more methodical pullout.
Halkett said the necessity and strategic values of the drawdowns are being questioned in DC: “This is going to be met a lot of criticism … it doesn’t please Pentagon officials; it doesn’t please lawmakers on Capitol Hill”.