WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of U.S troops in Afghanistan has been reduced to 2,500, the lowest level of American forces there since 2001, the Pentagon said on Friday.
In November, President Donald Trump’s administration said it would sharply cut the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 by mid-January, stopping short of a threatened full withdrawal from America’s longest war after fierce opposition from allies at home and abroad.
“Moving forward, while the Department continues with planning capable of further reducing U.S. troop levels to zero by May of 2021, any such future drawdowns remain conditions-based,” acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller said in a statement on reaching 2,500 troops.
On Monday, Reuters reported the U.S. military had not halted an American troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, despite a new law prohibiting further reductions without the Pentagon sending Congress an assessment of the risks.
A Pentagon spokesman, Army Major Rob Lodewick, on Friday said Trump had signed a waiver allowing for the troop reduction, though it appears to have happened when the move was already complete.
“Convention dictates that reducing troop levels, associated equipment and adjusting associated force protection requirements across a country-wide combat zone is not something that can be paused overnight without increasing risk to the force and core mission goals,” Lodewick said.
U.S. forces invaded the country after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States by the Islamist al Qaeda group based in Afghanistan. At its peak in 2011, the United States had more than 100,000 troops there.
President-elect Joe Biden, who takes office next Wednesday, has given few clues on what his plans are for Afghanistan. However, one option could be to leave a small counterterrorism force in the country, where its former Taliban rulers, al Qaeda and the Islamic State militant group still have a presence.
Reporting by Idrees Ali; editing by Jonathan Oatis
US Troop Levels in Afghanistan Drop to 2,500
Miller said the United States will continue to take any action necessary to ensure protection of its citizens.
The US Department of Defense on Friday confirmed that the number of US forces in Afghanistan has reached to 2,500 as directed by President Donald Trump.
“Today, the United States is closer than ever to ending nearly two decades of war and welcoming in an Afghan-owned, Afghan-led peace process to achieve a political settlement and a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire,” the statement said quoting US Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller.
“With a force of 2,500, commanders have what they need to keep America, our people and our interests safe,” Miller said. “Working alongside our NATO allies and partners, the United States will continue to execute both our counterterrorism mission and the train, advise and assist mission in support of Afghan Security Forces working to secure peace in their country.”
He said that “continued fulfillment of these two complementary missions seeks to ensure that Afghanistan is never again used to harbor those who seek to bring harm to the United States of America.”
Miller said this force reduction is an indication of the United States’ continued support towards the Afghan peace process and our adherence to commitments made in both the US-Taliban agreement and the US-Afghanistan Joint Declaration.
“Moving forward, while the Department continues with planning capable of further reducing US troop levels to zero by May of 2021, any such future drawdowns remain conditions-based. All sides must demonstrate their commitment to advancing the peace process,” Miller said.
He concluded that the United States will continue to take any action necessary to ensure the protection of its homeland, its citizens and its interests.
The reduction in a number of US forces in Afghanistan is accompanied by concerns by experts who say it might end up in increase in militants activities in the country. The Defense Ministry recently said Afghan forces are capable of defending the country but according to experts, they need support of international forces.