Trump reveals sudden troop withdrawal
President Donald Trump has decided to withdraw thousands of US troops from Iraq and Afghanistan by January 15 next year - just five days before Joe Biden replaces him.
The move was announced by Acting Secretary of Defence Christopher Miller today, describing it as "the next phase" in America's fight against terrorism.
"We owe this moment to the many patriots who made the ultimate sacrifice," Mr Miller said.
"Together, we have mourned the loss of more than 6900 American troops who gave their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq, and we will never forget the more than 52,000 who bear the wounds of war, and all those who still carry the scars, visible and invisible.
"In light of these tremendous sacrifices, and with great humility and gratitude to those who came before us, I am formally announcing that we will implement President Trump's orders to continue our repositioning of forces from those two countries.
"By January 15, 2021, our forces, their size in Afghanistan will be 2500 troops. Our force size in Iraq will also be 2500 by that same date.
"This is consistent with our established plans and strategic objectives, supported by the American people, and does not equate to a change in US policy or objectives."
The US currently has about 4500 troops deployed in Afghanistan and 3000 in Iraq.
NEW: Acting Defense Sec. Chris Miller announces reductions in troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan by January 15.— ABC News (@ABC) November 17, 2020
"This is consistent with our established plans and strategic objectives...and does not equate to a change in U.S. policy or objectives." https://t.co/6PzvNG4wiw pic.twitter.com/nVaOv5myHj
Mr Trump's National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien also made a brief statement, saying the President was fulfilling one of his promises from the 2016 election campaign.
"Four years ago, President Trump ran on a promise to put a stop to America's endless wars," Mr O'Brien said.
"President Trump is keeping that promise to the American people.
"By May, it is President Trump's hope that they will all come home safely and in their entirety.
"I want to reiterate that this policy is not new. This has been the President's policy since he took office."
By the time May rolls around, Mr Biden will have been president for four months.
Neither Mr Miller nor Mr O'Brien took questions from the media.
Mr Trump has long spoken about ending America's military presence in Afghanistan and Iraq. It remained part of his rhetoric on the campaign trail this year.
"I'm bringing our troops back from Afghanistan. I'm bringing our troops back from Iraq. We're almost out of almost every place," the President told voters during a town hall forum back in September.
At a subsequent campaign rally, he promised to keep the US out of "these endless, ridiculous, stupid foreign wars in countries that you've never even heard of".
The drawdown announcement comes a week after Mr Trump fired his defence secretary, Mark Esper, who was reportedly pushing back against the President's plans to scale back America's involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq.
According to CNN, Mr Esper had sent a memo to the White House conveying a unanimous recommendation from the US chain of command, which was opposed to the move.
That chain of command included General Kenneth McKenzie, who heads up US Central Command, and General Austin Miller, who is the NATO Commander in Afghanistan. General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, agreed with their assessment.
The memo reportedly expressed concerns that a number of conditions in Afghanistan had not been met, including a reduction in violence, progress in negotiations and a pledge from the Taliban to renounce terrorist groups like al-Qaeda.
Mr Esper was also worried about the withdrawal of troops being rushed.
Today's announcement also comes a day after the most powerful Republican in Congress, Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, warned that such a move would "hurt our allies and delight - delight - the people who wish us harm".
"The consequences of a premature American exit would likely be even worse than President Obama's withdrawal from Iraq back in 2011," Mr McConnell said.
"It would be reminiscent of the humiliating American departure from Saigon in 1975. We'd be abandoning our partners in Afghanistan."
It was a rare rebuke of Mr Trump from the influential Republican, albeit an implicit one. He said only a "small minority" of people in Congress would support a withdrawal.
Originally published as Trump reveals sudden troop withdrawal