The number of U.S troops in Afghanistan has been reduced to 2,500, the lowest level of American forces there since 2001, the Pentagon said on Friday.
It's unclear whether President-elect Joseph R. Biden will seek to uphold or continue to reduce the troop levels in his first months in office.
Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller said in a statement that the drawdown in Afghanistan brought USA forces in the country to their lowest levels since the war began. "Directed by President Trump, and as I announced on November 17, this drawdown brings USA forces in the country to their lowest levels since 2001", Miller said.
The Afghanistan decision was seen by some as unnecessarily complicating the decision-making of the incoming administration.
Iraqi government officials know that ISIS remains a threat, and the presence of US and coalition forces helps build Iraqi forces and deters the reconstitution of the terror network in the country, Miller said.
It said it has been working with the National Security Council "on the most efficient means to ensure consistency amidst an anterior drawdown already occurring across Afghanistan, and in a manner that continues to ensure the safety of USA personnel". Some in Congress, including fellow Republicans, opposed Trump's decision. Trump vetoed the measure, but both the House and Senate voted to override his veto.
U.S. media questioned that the rapid drawdown in Afghanistan might violate a measure in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, which authorises Congress to ban the funding for further force reductions in the country without a detailed report from the Pentagon.
The Pentagon has not yet fully explained how it squares its continued drawdown with the legal prohibition.
Under a plan instituted by Trump the Pentagon is seeking to completely withdraw USA troops from Afghanistan by May, but it is unclear if incoming President Joe Biden will continue to implement the policy when he takes office January 20.
There is no public evidence that the Pentagon has met either of the requirements.
Miller made no mention of Somalia, and U.S. Africa Command did not immediately respond to a query about whether Trump's deadline for the near-total withdrawal of the estimated 700 troops in that country had been met. Because of less-than-transparent military procedures for counting troops in Afghanistan, it is possible that the 2,500 figure may be fudged.
Last week, Khalilzad was in Kabul to discuss the peace negotiations and USA withdrawal with Afghan officials, but Afghan President Ashraf Ghani refused to meet with him, according to Afghanistan's Tolo News.
Mr. Miller said that the Pentagon remains capable of further reducing troop levels to zero by May of this year, although any additional withdrawals would be "conditions based".
For some in favor of the drawdown, it is about keeping up the American end of the February 2019 U.S. -Taliban agreement, which states that all American forces will leave Afghanistan by May 2021, provided the Taliban upholds its end of the deal. It turned into something more ambitious but less well-defined and became far more costly in blood and treasure. Also, the sides agreed that intra-Afghan peace talks would be launched following a deal on prisoner exchanges between the Taliban and the government. During Biden's time as vice president, the USA pushed US troop totals in Afghanistan to 100,000 in a failed bid to compel the Taliban to come to the negotiating table.
"Everything else hinges on that", Milley told reporters.
Miller indicated the remaining USA troops and commanders are tasked to keep USA interests safe in the regions.
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