Members of Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team depart to conduct an equipment survey of a Department of Public Works facility Aug. 8 in Afghanistan.
Photo: U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Timothy Chacon | Flickr CC
WASHINGTON — Acting Pentagon chief Christopher Miller said Tuesday that the United States will reduce its military presence in Afghanistan to 2,500 troops and 2,500 troops in Iraq by Jan. 15.
The United States has approximately 4,500 troops currently in Afghanistan and more than 3,000 in Iraq.
“This decision by the president is based on continuous engagement with his national security cabinet over the past several months including ongoing discussions with me and my colleagues across the United States government,” Miller said at the Pentagon.
“And just this morning, I spoke with key leaders in Congress as well as our allies and partners abroad to update them on these plans in light of our shared approach,” Miller said, adding that he spoke with NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg and Afghanistan’s President Ghani on Tuesday. “We went in together, we adjust together and when the time is right, we will leave together,” Miller said.
Earlier on Tuesday, Stoltenberg warned that leaving the war-torn country too soon or in an uncoordinated effort could present unintended consequences for the world’s largest military organization.
“Afghanistan risks becoming once again a platform for international terrorists to plan and organize attacks on our homelands. And ISIS could rebuild in Afghanistan the terror caliphate it lost in Syria and Iraq,” the NATO chief said, referring to Islamic State militants.
In 2003, NATO joined the international security effort in Afghanistan and currently has more than 7,000 troops in the country. NATO’s security operation in Afghanistan was launched after the alliance activated its mutual defense clause — known as Article 5 — for the first time in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
Last week, Miller ascended to the Pentagon’s acting Secretary of Defense role after President Donald Trump’s sudden termination of Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.
In an early Saturday morning message to Department of Defense employees, Miller said he was “weary of war” and that it was time to end America’s conflicts in the Middle East.
“We are not a people of perpetual war — it is the antithesis of everything for which we stand for which our ancestors fought. All wars must end,” Miller wrote, adding that the U.S. was “on the verge of defeating Al Qaida and its associates.”
“We met the challenge; we gave it our all. Now, it’s time to come home,” Miller wrote.
Soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division gather their equipment before boarding a CH-47F Chinook that serves with the Task Force Flying Dragons, or 1st General Support Aviation Battalion., 25th Avn. Regiment, 16th Combat Avn. Brigade, in the Nawa Valley, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan,
Photo: U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Houston | FlickrCC
The wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria have cost U.S. taxpayers more than $1.57 trillion since Sept. 11, 2001, according to a Defense Department report. The war in Afghanistan, which has dragged on to become America’s longest conflict, began 19 years ago and has cost U.S. taxpayers $193 billion, according to the Pentagon.
Trump, who campaigned in 2016 on stopping “ridiculous endless wars” in the Middle East, took to Twitter last month to announce that American forces currently serving in Afghanistan will be home by Christmas.
At the time, it was unclear if Trump was giving an order via tweet or reiterating a long-held campaign promise in order to appeal to voters ahead of the U.S. presidential election.
Earlier this year, the United States brokered a peace deal with the Taliban that would usher in a permanent cease-fire and reduce the U.S. military’s footprint from approximately 13,000 to 8,600 by mid-July. And by May 2021, all foreign forces would leave the war-torn country.
Trump has previously directed the Pentagon to reduce the U.S. fighting force in conflict zones.
In 2018, Trump tweeted that the United States would be withdrawing troops out of Syria, a move that sent a shockwave through the Pentagon and contributed in part to the resignation of then-Defense Secretary James Mattis. Trump later reversed his decision to withdraw from Syria.
In May, Trump complained on Twitter that America’s role in Afghanistan has been reduced to a “police force” and not a “fighting force.”
When asked about the tweet by reporters during a White House event, Trump said that the U.S. could go back to Afghanistan if needed.
“We can always go back if we have to. If we have to go back, we’ll go back, and we’ll go back raging,” Trump said in May.