The White House has told the Pentagon to begin planning to bring the troop levels in Afghanistan and Iraq down to 2,500 each by January 15, just days before President Donald Trump leaves office, according to a defence official.
The news comes one week after Trump fired Defence Secretary Mark Esper in part for pushing back on Trump’s efforts to accelerate the Afghanistan drawdown against the advice of military commanders, POLITICO reported, setting off a purge of top Pentagon officials last week.
The Pentagon‘s new leaders, including acting Defence Secretary Christopher Miller, who most recently served as the director of the National Counterterrorism Centre, are seen as less resistant to the acceleration. Miller on Wednesday brought on retired Army Colonel Douglas Macgregor, an outspoken critic of the war in Afghanistan, as a senior adviser.
Mick Mulroy, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense under Trump, warned against a precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan and urged the administration to leave a "residual force" in the country.
"We should not rely on any assurances of the Taliban, we should rely on the U.S. military and the CIA," Mulroy said.
The Trump administration has not given a specific timeline for when the roughly 3,000 troops in Iraq will come home, but Trump vowed in August during a meeting with the country’s prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, in the Oval Office that “We’ll be leaving shortly.”
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The only thing worse than starting something and failing… is not starting something.