The Pentagon is reducing the number of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq to 2,500 in each, top defense officials said on Tuesday, a drawdown of about 2,000 in Afghanistan and 500 in Iraq. The move comes days after President Trumpover Twitter and replaced him with Christopher Miller in an acting capacity.
Mr. Trump has long expressed his displeasure with the number of troops in the Middle East. The effective date for the troop reduction, January 15, comes just five days before President-elect Joe Biden will be sworn into office.
A senior military officer said the decision is "based on commander's intent," that is, President Trump's, and military advisers indicated to him that "if you're going to draw down, we recommend you go to 2,500."
Another officer referred to the decision as a "political decision made by the politically appointed civilian leaders of the Pentagon."
In a message to Defense Department employees over the weekend, Miller said he wanted to "bring the current war to an end in a responsible manner."
Mr. Trump's firing of Esper created an upheaval in Pentagon leadership during the critical transition period. Before his firing, Esper wrote a memo, first reported by the Washington Post and confirmed by CBS News, about withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan that stated that any withdrawal below 4,500 should be "conditions-based," according to defense officials. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff through the rest of the chain of command had agreed this should be the case. Those conditions were that the Taliban had to reduce the level of violence and also break with al Qaeda.
Neither condition has been met.
Although this was not a new stance, Esper committed it to writing after Mr. Trump had tweeted that "all of the troops" would be home by Christmas, and national security adviser Robert O'Brien said last month that U.S. troop levels would drop to 2,500 by January.
O'Brien read reporters a statement Tuesday saying that the remaining troops would defend American allies, and it's Mr. Trump's hope that by May "they will all come safely home 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 and it's a policy that I talked about specifically with these numbers at the University of Las Vegas — the University of Nevada in Las Vegas in October," O'Brien told reporters.
Kathryn Watson contributed to this report.