President Donald Trump is expected to order the withdrawal of thousands of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia by January, according to officials familiar with a draft of the order, who spoke with the New York Times.
The officials told the New York Times that a draft order circulated throughout the Pentagon on Monday, which laid out the proposed troop cuts, including halving the number of troops in Afghanistan from the approximately 4,500 troops currently in the country. The order would also initiate a slight reduction in Iraq, below the 3,000 troops military commanders have previously called for in the country.
CNN also reported on the preliminary notice to military commanders, known as a “warning order,” which could be fully announced this week. According to sources who spoke to CNN, the Iraq troop withdrawal would reduce forces in the country to about 2,500.
In Somalia, virtually all of the more than 700 troops conducting training and counterterrorism missions in the country would leave, according to the New York Times sources.
While Trump has considered the withdrawal of U.S. troops deployed in Syria during his presidency, officials said the withdrawal would not affect troops in Syria.
The order would also not affect the U.S. presence in Kenya and Djibouti, two countries where U.S. drones are launched to carry out strikes in Somalia. Maintaining the airbases in the African countries neighboring Somalia would allow the U.S. to continue to carry out strikes against Al-Qaeda affiliated Al-Shabaab militants.
The draft order comes after reports former Defense Secretary Mark Esper issued a memo to the White House this month, recommending against further troop withdrawals in Afghanistan. Esper said conditions on the ground were not yet right for further U.S. troop withdrawals from Afghanistan and that a rapid troop withdrawal could endanger remaining troops in the country, and undermine ongoing peace negotiations. Esper’s memo reportedly came shortly before Trump fired him last week.
While the latest reported troop withdrawal would reduce the number of troops in Afghanistan, it would not be as extensive of a withdrawal as the one suggested by Trump last month when he tweeted, “We should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas!”
We should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 7, 2020
Afghan specialists told the New York Times that a partial withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan could complicate policy choices for a potential presidential administration under Joe Biden, but that it would be preferable to a total troop withdrawal.
Laurel E. Miller, a former State Department official who worked on Afghanistan and Pakistan policy for President Barack Obama and Trump, tweeted, “Quickly reducing to 2500 would narrow Biden Admin options and undercut peace talks, but wouldn’t create the utter upheaval of going to zero that fast.”
Quickly reducing to 2500 would narrow Biden Admin options and undercut peace talks, but wouldn’t create the utter upheaval of going to zero that fast. Going to zero would be withdrawal simply for the sake of withdrawal and could not credibly be characterized as responsible.
— Laurel Miller (@LaurelMillerICG) November 13, 2020
Brittany Brown, who previously worked on Somalia policy at the National Security Council for Obama and Trump, told the New York Times that the “timing could not be any worse” for the reported Somalia withdrawal. Brown raised Somalia’s security needs among an upcoming election of its own.
“This is not the time to do it, because this election is really important — this one matters a lot,” Brown said. ““I hope this doesn’t send Somalia back into failed-state chaos, because this would embolden Al-Shabaab.”