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US officially withdrawing to 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, Iraq by January 15

Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller speaks to reporters in a briefing at the Pentagon. (Department of Defense/Released)
November 17, 2020

Acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller officially announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia by mid-January.

Approximately half of U.S. troops will be pulled from Afghanistan, dropping to 2,500, while about 500 troops will be pulled from Iraq, also dropping to 2,500. Approximately 4,500 troops are currently in Afghanistan, while some 3,000 are in Iraq.

“I am formally announcing that we will implement President Trump’s orders to continue our repositioning of forces from those two countries [Afghanistan and Iraq],” Miller said. “By January 15, 2021, our forces …  in Afghanistan will be 2,500 troops. Our force size in Iraq will also be 2,500 by that same date.”

Miller recognized the 6,900 U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq, and 52,000 more who fought in the war on terrorism.

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“We will finish this generational war and bring our men and women home. We will protect our children from the heavy burden and toll of perpetual war,” Miller said.

Miller criticized the “perpetual war” in a memo to all DOD employees released around 12 a.m. ET on Saturday.

“As we prepare for the future, we remain committed to finishing the war that Al Qaida brought to our shores in 2001,” Miller wrote. “This war isn’t over. We are on the verge of defeating Al Qaida and its associates, but we must avoid our past strategic error of failing to see the fight through to the finish. Indeed, this fight has been long, our sacrifices have been enormous and many are weary of war – I’m one of them – but this is the critical phase in which we transition our efforts from a leadership to supporting role. We are not a people of perpetual war – it is the antithesis of everything for which we stand and for which our ancestors fought. All wars must end.”

Miller’s position stands in contrast to his predecessor, Mark Esper, who issued a memo to the White House before his firing this month that advised 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 came shortly before Trump fired him last week.