US House urged that any decision to reduce US troops in Afghanistan should be done in an orderly manner.
The House on Tuesday passed a $741 billion defense policy bill that would take steps to slow or block US President Trump’s planned drawdown of American troops from Germany and Afghanistan.
The bill contains a provision that would require the Trump administration to submit a comprehensive, interagency report and certification prior to obligating or expending funds to draw down US military personnel in Afghanistan “below troop levels of 8,000 and 4,000.”
The US Senate retumed with an amendment that would adjust the troop level thresholds, modify certain reporting requirements, and adjust the waiver available to the Secretary of Defense.
“The conferees reaffirm that it is in the national security interests of the US to deny terrorists safe haven in Afghanistan, protect the United States homeland, uphold the United States partnership with the Government of Afghanistan, and protect the hard-fought gains for the rights of women, girls, and other vulnerable populations in Afghanistan,” according to the US bill.
It also said that the conferees note the South Asia strategy emphasizes the importance of a conditions-based United States presence in Afghanistan in support of ongoing diplomatic efforts to secure a peaceful, negotiated solution to the conflict.
It’s also further note that any decision to reduce the armed forces of the United States in Afghanistan should be done in an orderly manner and in coordination with United States allies and partners and the Government of Afghanistan.
“Additionally, prior to withdrawal, the United States should seek to secure the release of any United States citizens being held against their will in Afghanistan,” it said adding that “The Administration has a constitutional obligation to provide the Congress and the American people with regular, timely, and comprehensive information on the status of security operations and diplomatic efforts in Afghanistan and across the globe.
“Today the House sent a strong, bipartisan message to the American people: Our service members and our national security are more important than politics,” Democratic Representative Adam Smith, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement.
A week ago, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Brookings Institution’s Michael O’Hanlon said that “We believe that now after 20 years — two decades of consistent effort there — we’ve achieved a modicum of success.”
“We went to Afghanistan … to ensure that Afghanistan never again became a platform for terrorists to strike the United States,” he said.
Milley also said that US troops will continue training Afghan and Iraqi combat forces after the partial US withdrawals from those nations ordered by President Donald Trump last month.
Trump ordered the new drawdowns to be completed by Jan. 15, five days before he leaves office.
The moves will leave about 2,500 troops in Afghanistan. However, he declined to provide many details about the US withdrawal plans for Afghanistan, citing security concerns.
Defense bill seeks to halt Afghanistan drawdown
The compromise defense policy bill released Thursday includes language aimed at preventing a withdrawal from Afghanistan amid President Trump’s order to cut U.S. forces there to 2,500 by mid-January.
The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would block funding to reduce the number of troops in Afghanistan until the Pentagon, State Department and director of national intelligence assess how a drawdown would affect threats to the United States, among other criteria.
The assessment would be required before troops can drop below the number there when the bill becomes law and again before troops can drop below 2,000.
“The administration has a constitutional obligation to provide the Congress and the American people with regular, timely and comprehensive information on the status of security operations and diplomatic efforts in Afghanistan and across the globe,” the conference report added.
In November, Trump ordered the military to cut the number of troops in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 by Jan. 15, days before he is set to leave office.
President-elect Joe Biden has said he would withdraw most troops from Afghanistan, but leave a small contingent of special forces there to conduct counterterrorism missions.
Trump has continued to push forward with drawing down in Afghanistan even as U.S. and military officials have said the Taliban has yet to meet the commitments it agreed to in February.
The U.S.-Taliban deal, signed in February, calls for a full U.S. withdrawal by this coming May if the Taliban upholds counterterrorism commitments such as denying safe haven to al Qaeda.
In addition to not yet breaking with al Qaeda, the Taliban has stepped up attacks against Afghan forces, drawing condemnation from U.S. officials.
The initial House-passed version of the NDAA included language similar to what was agreed to in the compromise bill.
The Senate’s version included language warning against a “precipitous” withdrawal in Afghanistan, but did not have a provision matching the House’s requirement for certifications before drawing down in Afghanistan.
The Afghanistan language is among several rebukes of Trump that made it into the bipartisan NDAA.
The bill includes language aimed at constraining Trump’s ability to withdraw thousands of U.S. troops from Germany.
It also includes a requirement for the Pentagon to rename Confederate-named bases and excludes a repeal of a tech liability shield, both areas over which Trump has threatened to veto the bill.
Miller Says He Has Orders to Reduce US Troop Levels
Gen. Miller said that the troop reduction will be done “in accordance with conditions.”
US and NATO’s Resolute Support forces commander in Afghanistan Gen. Scott Miller on Sunday said that he “has orders to reduce the US military presence to 2,500” and that “part of this is in line with US-Taliban agreement.”
He said that the troop reduction will be done “in accordance with conditions.”
“Important for the Afghan people to understand that we have discussed this very carefully with the Afghan security forces. We still have a force that’s capable of providing the necessary support to the Afghan security forces. In some cases, it’s a direct combat support. We still have our train, advice and assist mission that takes place and we certainly have the ability to protect our force as well as meet our counterterrorism commitments,” Miller told reporters in Kabul on Sunday.
The Trump administration has said that the number of US forces in Afghanistan will be reduced from roughly 4,000 to 2,500 by mid-January. The decision has faced opposition in the US House of Representatives and the US Senate.
“The presence of NATO in Afghanistan over the last two weeks has been effective in joint counterterrorism efforts and in supporting Afghan forces,” said Rohullah Ahmadzai, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defense.
Miller meanwhile criticized the high level of violence by the Taliban.
“Actually, I have talked with the Taliban about this. The violence is too high. The Taliban violence needs to come down. We have had many discussions about this. What we refer to is a historic opportunity, ongoing peace process, where representatives of the republic of Afghanistan are sitting down with the Taliban and we need to make sure that from the military and security standpoint, and to provide the confidence to the people of Afghanistan, that we give this the best opportunity to be successful,” Miller said.
This comes as negotiators in Doha on Saturday reported that both sides have exchanged their lists about the agenda of the peace negotiations and that the next phase of the talks will begin on January 5.
The negotiating teams of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban earlier this month agreed on procedural rules for the talks. Following their agreement, they held three meetings on the agenda of the negotiations and were expected to start the talks this week.
The negotiators did not mention whether the talks will be convened in Doha or somewhere else.