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Trump to withdraw half of 14,000 US troops in Afghanistan, reports say

President Donald J. Trump receives a briefing from senior military leaders Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018, in the Cabinet Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)
December 21, 2018

President Donald Trump has reportedly made another sudden decision to withdraw U.S. troops from the Middle East, this time from Afghanistan.

While not yet officially announced, officials said Trump told his Cabinet members to begin plans for withdrawing approximately half of the 14,000 U.S. personnel deployed to Afghanistan over the next several months, according to a Wall Street Journal report on Thursday.

The announcement comes just one day after Trump announced the withdrawal of at least 2,000 U.S. forces from Syria in the next 30 days.

Two officials told ABC News that Trump discussed the possibility of a withdrawal from Afghanistan on Wednesday with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton, all of who warned against the plan.

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Trump was asked around Thanksgiving time if he would consider a withdrawal of U.S. personnel from Afghanistan, to which he replied, “We’re always looking to do the right thing. We’ll be seeing over a period of time, but we’re looking.”

As the Taliban continues to be a problem in Afghanistan, negotiations have taken place between U.S. officials the Taliban in an attempt to reach a peace deal. The latest talks reportedly just wrapped up this week.

The decisions to withdraw from Syria and Afghanistan have resulted in hefty criticism from the President’s own party.

Sen. Lindsey Graham said on Thursday that the withdrawal “will pave the way for another 9/11.”

“It will be the most disastrous decision any president could make as to withdraw our forces from Afghanistan without conditions changing,” Graham added.

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Republican Rep. Mac Thornberry, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement on Friday, “I am deeply disturbed by reports that the Administration is planning to cut the number of American troops in Afghanistan by half.”

“Among my concerns are that such a move would: complicate the remaining troops ability to protect themselves; cause coalition partners to reduce their presence as well; set back progress in helping the Afghan security forces be able to provide for their country’s security; relieve pressure on the Taliban at a critical juncture in peace negotiations; and allow ISIS, Al Qaeda, and other terrorist groups in Afghanistan to rebuild and eventually launch terrorist attacks against Americans,” Thornberry continued.

“Considerable progress has been made in the last two years against terrorist organizations in a variety of places around the world. Reducing the American presence in Afghanistan and removing our presence in Syria will reverse that progress, encourage our adversaries, and make America less safe,” he concluded.

Further, the withdrawals are speculated to have driven Defense Secretary Mattis to announce his retirement, effective at the end of February.

“Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects,” Mattis wrote in his resignation letter. “I believe it is right for me to step down from my position.”

The President’s decisions indicate his unwillingness to continue costly military operations around the world, going on for lengthy periods of time and claiming the lives of American service members.

The conflict in Afghanistan has been going on for 17 years and has claimed the lives of 2,216 U.S. service members, according to the Department of Defense.

“I think it shows how serious the president is about wanting to come out of conflicts,” one senior U.S. official told the WSJ. “I think he wants to see viable options about how to bring conflicts to a close.”

Just last year, Trump ordered 3,000 U.S. troops deploy to Afghanistan as a part of his renewed strategy for the region.

“America will work with the Afghan government as long as we see determination and progress. However, our commitment is not unlimited, and our support is not a blank check,” he said at the time. “The government of Afghanistan must carry their share of the military, political, and economic burden. The American people expect to see real reforms, real progress, and real results. Our patience is not unlimited. We will keep our eyes wide open.”