Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday defended President Donald Trump’s plan to reduce the number of American troops in Afghanistan, saying that removing them from “harm’s way” is the Trump administration’s “mission set.”
He added that having fewer troops on the ground doesn’t equate to America’s security being compromised.
“The President to date has said that we’re going to go from where we are today, something just over 4,000, to around 2,500,” Pompeo told Fox News’ “Special Report.” “Don’t fall in the trap of thinking about America’s security related to the number of soldiers on the ground in any one place.”
He told host Bret Baier that the global threat from Islamic extremism and Islamic terrorism is real, and doesn’t just emanate from Afghanistan.
“We have the force posture right today. We’re going to keep it right. We’ll get our troops home when we can, and we’ll do the things we need to do,” Pompeo continued. “If Qasem Soleimani is a problem, we’ll go crush them. If Hamza bin Ladin presents a risk, we’ll take him out.”
Acting Department of Defense Secretary Christopher Miller last week confirmed the plans to 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.
Miller said the move to draw down troops is due to the president’s “bold leadership.”
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.
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.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warned against the move last week, saying that would only be supported by a “small minority” in Congress, and that the “premature” removal of U.S. troops from the region “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. … It would be reminiscent of the humiliating American departure from Saigon in 1975. We’d be abandoning our partners in Afghanistan,” McConnell said.
Trump had addressed this concern in a speech in 2017 that outlined his strategy for the war in Afghanistan, saying that he didn’t want to repeat the Obama administration’s mistake, which created a power vacuum that led to parts of Iraq being seized by ISIS.
At the time, he admitted that “my original instinct was to pull out.” But after speaking with the country’s military leaders, he said they determined that Afghanistan could not be allowed to fall into the hands of terrorist groups again.
“The men and women who serve our nation in combat deserve a plan for victory,” Trump said at the time. Therefore, we must “seek an honorable and enduring outcome worthy of the tremendous sacrifices that have been made, especially the sacrifices of lives.”
The United States deployed military members to Afghanistan in late 2001 and has had a presence there ever since, nearly 20 years later.
“We are safer here in the United States today as a result of the things the Trump administration has done not only in Afghanistan but throughout that region,” Pompeo added.
Jack Phillips contributed to this report.