Acting Department of Defense Secretary Christopher Miller on Tuesday confirmed that he will draw down American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan to about 2,500 each, saying that it’s designed to reduce the “heavy burden of perpetual war” on future generations.
“I am formally announcing that we will implement President Trump’s orders to continue our repositioning of forces from those two countries,” he said in a news conference at the Pentagon. “I celebrate this day.” The move to draw down troops, Miller said, is due to the president’s “bold leadership.”
According to the Pentagon chief, who was named to the position about two weeks ago after former Secretary Mark Esper was fired, said that troops in Afghanistan will be reduced from more than 4,000 to 2,500, and in Iraq, officials will reduce the number of soldiers from 3,000 to 2,500 before Jan. 15, 2021. Inauguration Day is on Jan. 20.
“This decision by the president is based on continuous engagement with his national security cabinet over the past several months including ongoing discussions with me and my colleagues across the United States government,” Miller said in the press conference.
“And just this morning, I spoke with key leaders in Congress as well as our allies and partners abroad to update them on these plans in light of our shared approach,” Miller said, adding that he talked with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and Afghanistan’s President Ghani in recent days. “We went in together, we adjust together and when the time is right, we will leave together,” he remarked.
Some officials, including Stoltenberg and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), warned about drawing down troops from Afghanistan, the site of a U.S.-led war since 2001.
Over the weekend, in a letter to staffers in the Department of Defense, Miller remarked that Americans “are not a people of perpetual war—it is the antithesis of everything for which we stand for which our ancestors fought.”
“We met the challenge; we gave it our all. Now, it’s time to come home,” Miller wrote, adding that the United States was “on the verge of defeating al-Qaeda and its associates.”
Trump, who has long been a critic of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, in 2016 campaigned that he would stop endless wars being waged by the United States. In 2018, he wrote that the United States would be pulling troops out of Syria, leading to the resignation of James Mattis, who was serving as Pentagon chief at the time.
Earlier this month, Ambassador Jim Jeffrey, the U.S. envoy to Syria, admitted that officials hid the numbers of troops that the United States had in Syria from Trump, suggesting that it was done to keep troops in the country.
“We were always playing shell games to not make clear to our leadership how many troops we had there,” Jeffrey said in an interview. He added that the real number of troops “a lot more than” the roughly two hundred troops Trump initially agreed to leave in Syria last year. Jeffries’ admission drew considerable backlash on social media.
A report from the Department of Defense in September 2019 (pdf) said the total cost of the wars in Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq were about $1.575 trillion.