U.S. military forces in Afghanistan and Iraq have dropped to 5,000 troops across both countries, with 2,500 personnel in each, meeting a Jan. 15 deadline from President Donald J. Trump to reduce the military’s footprint in the Middle East.
The withdrawal marks the lowest level of American troops in Afghanistan since 2001, and comes amid ongoing peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
“Today, the United States is closer than ever to ending nearly two decades of war and welcoming in an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process to achieve a political settlement and a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire,” Acting Defense Secretary Christopher C. Miller said.
The Pentagon did not disclose the makeup of the remaining 2,500 forces, saying that “commanders have what they need to keep America, our people, and our interests safe” while continuing both counterterrorism and training missions. The Defense Department plans to further reduce the overall presence by May, but claims that future drawdowns remain dependent on conditions in the area.
The reduction appears to flout a provision in the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act that blocks DOD from spending money to shrink the number of troops in Afghanistan below 4,000 until Miller submits a report on the potential risks. The Pentagon did not say if that report was submitted, but the Associated Press reported Jan. 15 that Trump signed a waiver to bypass the legislation, “stipulating that the drawdown was important to U.S. national security interests.”
“Earlier in the week, Trump had not yet signed the waiver, meaning it came after the drawdown had been completed,” according to the AP.
In Iraq, the reduction “is reflective of the increased capabilities of the Iraqi Security Forces,” Miller wrote. “We have long anticipated that the force level required to support Iraq’s fight against [the Islamic State group] would decrease as Iraq’s capability to manage the threat from ISIS improves.”
The remaining 2,500 U.S. and coalition forces will stay in Iraq “to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS.”