Against the recommendations of an overwhelming number of senior military advisors and the Pentagon, a “warning order” was sent to commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan to prepare for further troop withdrawals from those countries. It’s anticipated that by January 15, U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan will be reduced from 4,500 to 2,500 and in Iraq from 3,000 to 2,500.
Former Secretary of Defense Mike Esper sent a memo to Donald Trump in which he detailed the unanimous opposition by senior military commanders to any further drawdown of troops. Shortly afterward, Trump fired him.
In recent days, Trump has replaced several key civilian leaders in the Pentagon with hardline loyalists who appear to be more amenable to a further troop drawdown than their predecessors.
The question of leaving Afghanistan and Iraq has never been a matter of if, but when. The U.S. has established a set of benchmarks that must be achieved before U.S. troops vacate those countries completely. By all accounts, they have not been achieved.
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Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a Senate floor speech that leaving Iraq and Afghanistan now would “delight” our enemies.
“We’re playing a limited — limited — but important role in defending American national security and American interests against terrorists who would like nothing more than for the most powerful force for good in the world to simply pick up our ball and go home,” he said.
“There’s no American who does not wish the war in Afghanistan against terrorists and their enablers had already been conclusively won,” he explained. “But that does not change the actual choice before us now. A rapid withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan now would hurt our allies and delight — delight — the people who wish us harm.”
US military officials have long stressed that the US withdrawal from Afghanistan should be conditions based, including the Taliban breaking its ties to al Qaeda and making progress in peace talks with the Afghan government, two conditions that have yet to be met.
But despite the lack of progress, the Trump administration has already substantially reduced US troops in the country by more than 50%, recently bringing the number of US military personnel there down to about 4,500, the lowest levels since the earliest days of the post 9/11 campaign.
That Trump would rather fulfill a political pledge than deal with the national security ramifications of further reducing U.S. troop presence in Iraq and Afghanistan is unprecedented.
Not everyone is opposed to the cut-and-run policy of Trump and his Pentagon loyalists.
Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky who is a strong advocate of withdrawing US troops welcomed the appointment.
“I am very pleased @realDonaldTrump asked my friend Col. Doug Macgregor to help quickly end the war in Afghanistan. This and other picks for Pentagon are about getting the right people who will finally help him stop our endless wars,” Paul tweeted.
There’s “stopping endless wars” and then there’s making it easy for our enemies to begin round two. Al Qaeda will now be given time and space to regroup in Afghanistan for the next attack.
Even Barack Obama never would have contemplated leaving with the job unfinished.