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AFP
November 19, 2020

America to slash troop levels in Iraq, Afghanistan

World

AFP
November 19, 2020

The US will slash troop levels in Afghanistan and Iraq to their lowest levels in nearly 20 years of war after President Donald Trump pledged to end conflicts abroad, the Pentagon announced Tuesday.

Rejecting concerns that precipitous drawdowns could give up all the US has fought for, Acting Defence Secretary Chris Miller said around 2,000 troops would be pulled from Afghanistan by January 15.

Five hundred more would come back from Iraq by the same date, 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.

Miller said the US had met its goals, set in 2001 after the Al Qaeda attacks on the United States, to defeat Islamist extremists and to help "local partners and allies to take the lead in the fight."

"With the blessings of providence in the coming year, we will finish this generational war and bring our men and women home," he said.

The moves took the United States closer to disengaging from conflicts that have blazed and smouldered through three presidencies with no end in sight since 2001. But critics said they risk appearing like a humiliating defeat, leaving the original threat of Islamic extremist attacks intact.

The announcement came just weeks before Trump cedes the White House in the wake of his November 3 reelection loss to Democrat Joe Biden.

Amid criticism that Trump was acting abruptly since his defeat, White House National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien said the troop cuts have been in the works for some time.

"Four years ago President Trump ran on a promise to put a stop to America’s endless wars. Today it was just announced at the Pentagon that President Trump is keeping that promise to the American people."

"By May it is President Trump’s hope that they will come home safely and in their entirety." It comes 10 days after Trump fired defense secretary Mark Esper, who had insisted on keeping 4,500 troops in Afghanistan to support Afghan security forces.

Esper had reduced US forces from about 13,000 following a deal with the Taliban in February, in which both sides agreed the Taliban would enter into peace talks with the Kabul government, in return for US troops withdrawing by May 2021.

But until Esper’s removal, the Pentagon had argued that the Taliban had not met pledges to reduce violent attacks, which have surged across the country in recent months.

President Ashraf Ghani’s spokesman Sediq Sediqqi confirmed in a tweet that Ghani and Miller had spoken on the phone about "continued meaningful US military support to the Afghan Security and Defence Forces".

In Iraq, Trump has also pulled back US forces amid dozens of rocket attacks by Iran-allied groups on the US embassy and bases housing American troops.