Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Christopher Miller has signaled that he could accelerate the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and the Middle East.
In his first message to the U.S. armed services since his appointment by President Donald Trump, Miller wrote on November 13 that "all wars must end" and "it's time to come home."
He did not specifically mention Afghanistan or the Middle East, but did stress that the United States was still be committed to "finishing the war that Al-Qaeda brought to our shores in 2001," a reference to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that led to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in a war that has lasted 19 years.
The United States currently has fewer than 9,000 troops in Afghanistan. The United States is also involved in military efforts to counter Al-Qaeda and its affiliates in the Middle East.
"This is the critical phase in which we transition our efforts from a leadership to supporting role," Miller wrote. "Ending wars requires compromise and partnership. We met the challenge; we gave it our all."
The Taliban militant group and the Afghan government are currently engaged in intra-Afghan talks, in keeping with a deal signed by the United States and the Taliban in Doha under which foreign forces are to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for the Taliban committing to cut ties with Al-Qaeda and other international militant groups.
However, no breakthrough has been reported since Afghan government representatives and the Taliban inaugurated the negotiations in September, while violence has been ramping up throughout Afghanistan with the militant fighters attacking provincial capitals, in some case prompting U.S. air strikes.
Questions have also been raised over Al-Qaeda’s links with the Taliban, with United Nations monitors saying in a report released in June that the two continue to maintain ties.