President Donald Trump is expected to cut a significant number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and a smaller number in Iraq by the final days of his presidency, U.S. officials said Monday. The plan would run counter to military commanders' advice over the past year, while still falling short of Trump's much-touted goal to end America's long wars.
The decision comes just days after Trump installed a new slate of loyalists in top Pentagon positions who share his frustration with the continued troop presence in the war zones. But the expected plans would leave 2,500 troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan, meaning that President-elect Joe Biden would be the fourth president to grapple with the still-smoldering conflicts launched in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
U.S. officials said military leaders were told over the weekend about the planned withdrawals and that an executive order is in the works but has not yet been delivered to commanders. Officials cautioned that there could always be changes, and Trump is known to make snap decisions based on media reports and online chatter. Officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
There are 4,500 to 5,000 troops in Afghanistan and more than 3,000 in Iraq.
As news broke about the plan, Republican leaders on Capitol Hill issued stark warnings about making any hasty exit from Afghanistan that could jeopardize the peace process and undermine counterterrorism efforts.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Trump administration has made tremendous headway against terrorist threats, but warned against a potentially “humiliating” pullout from Afghanistan that he said would be worse than President Barack Obama’s 2011 withdrawal from Iraq and reminiscent of the U.S. departure from Saigon in 1975.
Rep. Michael McCaul, Republican leader on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said of the plans for Afghanistan, "We need to ensure a residual force is maintained for the foreseeable future to protect U.S. national and homeland security interests and to help secure peace for Afghanistan.”
Under the planned order, the troop cuts would be completed just five days before Biden takes office on Jan. 20. Military commanders have expressed less concern about the reduction in Iraq, where the Iraqi forces are better able to maintain their nation's security.