The United States will cut its troop presence in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 by January 15, just days before President Donald Trump leaves office.
Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller said on November 17 that U.S. troops would also be reduced by 500 in Iraq to 2,500.
The decision reflects Trump's policy "to bring the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to a successful and responsible conclusion and to bring our brave service members home," Miller said.
The troop withdrawals just two months before Trump leaves the White House come despite arguments from senior military officials and NATO in favor of a slower, more methodical pullout.
Amid reports Trump was planning to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned on November 17 that the military bloc could pay a heavy price for leaving Afghanistan in a swift and uncoordinated fashion.
Some of Trump's Republican allies have also voiced concerns this week about sudden troops reductions abroad.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warned a rapid reduction of troops from Afghanistan would give extremists a propaganda victory and amount to abandoning partners. He suggested that the move would leave room for the Taliban to take control of Afghanistan and for the Islamic State extremist group and Al-Qaeda to rebuild.
Under an agreement signed in February between the Taliban and the United States, 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. But full implementation of that deal faces many hurdles amid a lack of progress in ongoing intra-Afghan peace negotiations in Qatar.
Trump campaigned on ending military involvement abroad but has not substantially reduced the U.S. military imprint overseas, while increasing some operations to counter Iran.
Trump’s national-security adviser, Robert O’Brien, said the president is keeping his promise to the American people to get U.S. troops out of war zones.
“By May, it is President Trump’s hope that they will all come home safely and in their entirety,” O’Brien told reporters at the White House shortly after Miller made the announcement at the Pentagon.
“I want to reiterate that this policy is not new,” O’Brien said. “This has been the president’s policy since he took office.”
Proponents of a U.S. military withdrawal point out that the country has given much blood and treasure in engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001 and 2003, respectively, and the United States has plenty of issues to address at home.