Washington: US President Donald Trump will issue a formal order to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan and Iraq as soon as this week, according to media reports.
US media quoted officials as saying that the Pentagon had issued a notice to commanders to begin planning to decrease the number of troops to 2,500 level in both Afghanistan and Iraq by mid-January.
The 2,500-troop level in reports was in line with what Trump’s National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said last month that US troops in Afghanistan would be reduced to around 2,500 by early 2021. Currently, there are approximately 4,500 US troops in Afghanistan and 3,000 troops in Iraq.
The reports came after a reshuffle of Pentagon leadership last week. President Trump appointed the director of the National Counterterrorism Center Christopher Miller as acting defense secretary to replace former Pentagon chief Mark Esper, who reportedly had been pushing back on a premature withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned that the military organization could pay a heavy price for leaving Afghanistan too early.
“We now face a difficult decision. We have been in Afghanistan for almost 20 years, and no NATO ally wants to stay any longer than necessary. But at the same time, the price for leaving too soon or in an uncoordinated way could be very high,” Stoltenberg said in a statement.
He said the conflict-ravaged country “risks becoming once again a platform for international terrorists to plan and organize attacks on our homelands. And ISIS (Islamic State) could rebuild in Afghanistan the terror caliphate it lost in Syria and Iraq.”
NATO took charge of the international security effort in Afghanistan in 2003 and it relies heavily on the US armed forces to operate in Afghanistan.