WASHINGTON – President Trump is expected to order the U.S. military to withdraw thousands of troops from Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia pending his departure from office in January in order to use the end of his term in office to significantly disrupt American forces from distant conflicts withdraw all over the world.
According to a draft regulation in circulation in the Pentagon on Monday, the number of US forces in Afghanistan would halve compared to the current deployment of 4,500 soldiers.
In Iraq, the Pentagon would reduce the armed forces slightly below the 3,000 troops previously announced by commanders. And in Somalia, virtually all of the more than 700 troops conducting training and counter-terrorism missions would be leaving.
Taken together, the cuts reflect Mr Trump’s longstanding desire to end the cost of longstanding military engagements against Islamist uprisings in failed and fragile countries in Africa and the Middle East, a difficult mission that has spread since the September terrorist attacks. 11, 2001.
However, the president’s aspirations have long met with opposition as his own national security officials argued that abandoning such troubled countries could have disastrous consequences – for example, when the United States pulled out of Iraq in late 2011, leaving a vacuum that the US fostered Rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Mr Trump has also repeatedly urged withdrawing from Syria, but several hundred U.S. troops remain stationed there, some around the coveted oil fields of the American-backed Syrian-Kurdish allies prior to the confiscation by the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad to protect. Current withdrawals considerations would not affect those in Syria, officials said.
The plan under discussion to withdraw from Somalia is not intended to apply to U.S. forces stationed in nearby Kenya and Djibouti, where American drones are stationed carrying out air strikes in Somalia, anonymity.
Maintaining these airbases would mean maintaining the military’s ability to use drones to attack militants with the Shabab, the al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group – at least those who are seen as a threat to American interests. The fewer troops that would remain in Iraq and Afghanistan would also be sufficient to maintain the ability to conduct counter-terrorism raids and strikes. The troop decisions in Afghanistan and Iraq were previously reported by CNN.
Mr Trump said in one Twitter post Last month he wanted all 4,500 US troops in Afghanistan to get home by Christmas, but senior military and national security aides advised against such a steep withdrawal. The president eventually agreed to the minor drawdown, officials said.
Trump’s national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien said last month that the United States would withdraw about 2,500 troops from Afghanistan by early next year – and indirectly rebuke General Mark A. Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, to openly question this timeline.
Just before Mr. Trump sacked Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper last week and installed Christopher C. Miller as incumbent Pentagon chief, Mr. Esper had sent the White House a secret memo expressing concern about the acceleration of troop withdrawal in Afghanistan brought administrative officer said.
Conditions on the ground were not yet right, Mr Esper is said to have written, citing continued violence, the dangers of a speedy withdrawal for remaining troops, the impact on alliances and fears of undermining peace negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghans . The memo was previously reported by the Washington Post.
Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and majority leader, delivered a barely-veiled warning to Mr. Trump Monday from the Senate that the president would run the risk of wasting his Middle East credentials and repeating the mistake of former President Barack Obama, one Predecessor he loathes.
“A quick withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan would hurt our allies and please the people who want to harm us,” said McConnell. For a leader who has loyally stood by Mr Trump on most domestic issues, the departure has been remarkable.
“The consequences of an early American exit would likely be even worse than President Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq in 2011, which fueled the rise of ISIS and a new round of global terrorism,” said McConnell. “It would commemorate the humiliating American departure from Saigon in 1975.”
Leaving foreign conflicts – and particularly from Afghanistan – has been a central part of Trump’s “America First” agenda since he took office in 2016. This appeal in particular has revitalized its populist base, including many veterans who have grown tired of their roles in longstanding wars. The President considers his record on the matter important to any political future he might pursue.
Mr. Esper’s caution about troop reductions was one of several factors that led to his dismissal. A group of new officials arrived after his departure, including Douglas Macgregor, a retired Army Colonel and a strong supporter of ending American engagement in Afghanistan.
It is unclear whether the remaining NATO and Allied forces in Afghanistan – some 7,000 people who mainly train government forces – would also withdraw. But officials said some in the north and west of the country would likely do so because they rely on American transportation and, in some cases, protection.
That would leave it to the American armed forces to advise from a key US-Afghan command center and to help the Afghan military gather their resources and plan their defenses. Much of the rest would be in about five smaller regional target teams – made up of small divisions from special forces – that would help target insurgent groups.
The proposal to withdraw between 2,000 and 2,500 soldiers in Afghanistan comes from the fact that the country’s armed forces are being besieged in the south and north. Morale among the Afghan security forces is low and uncertainty has led local political leaders to do deals with the advancing Taliban.
According to the New York Times, October was the deadliest month for civilians since September 2019. More than 200 civilians were killed.
The peace talks between Afghan and Taliban negotiators in Qatar have stalled mainly because the Afghan government is unwilling to use the February agreement as a guiding document for the discussions.
Afghanistan specialists said the accelerated but partial withdrawal could make policy decisions more difficult for President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his new national security team, but it is preferable to a full withdrawal.
“A quick cut to 2500 would limit Biden Admin’s options and undercut the peace talks, but would not create the utter upheaval going to zero anytime soon,” said Laurel E. Miller, a former senior State Department official responsible for Afghanistan and America Pakistani diplomacy worked both Mr Trump and Mr Obama, said on twitter last week.
Most US troops in Somalia, the war-torn nation in the Horn of Africa, are special forces stationed at a small number of bases across the country. Her missions include training and advising Somali army and counter-terrorism forces, as well as carrying out kill-or-capture raids on their own Shabab fighters.
Mr. Trump’s urge to leave Somalia before the end of his term comes at a sensitive time: Somalia is preparing for next month’s general election and a presidential election slated for early February. The withdrawal of US troops could make it more difficult to protect election campaigns and votes from Shabab bombers. It also comes at a time of political unrest in neighboring Ethiopia, whose army has also fought the Shabab.
The timing “couldn’t be worse,” said Brittany Brown, who worked on Somali politics on the Obama-Trump National Security Council. She said she supported the withdrawal from Somalia.
“This is not the time because this choice is really important – this is very important,” said Ms. Brown, who is now chief of staff at International Crisis Group, a nonprofit that focuses on deadly conflict. “I hope this does not put Somalia back into a mess of failed state as it would encourage Al Shabab.”
It’s not clear whether other parts of the U.S. government – like C.I.A. Activists, the ambassador and other foreign ministry diplomats stationed in a heavily fortified bunker at the airport in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, will also withdraw from Somali territory along with the military.
Somalia has been exposed to civil war, droughts and violence by Islamist extremists for years. The United States intervened as a peacekeeping force at the end of the George Bush administration, but gave up not long after the 1993 Black Hawk Down battle that killed 18 Americans and hundreds of militia members.
The Shabab, an Islamist terrorist group whose name means “the youth”, emerged around 2007 and has fought violently for control of Somalia, with occasional attacks outside its borders, including an attack on the Westgate shopping center in Nairobi, Kenya, in the year 2013 that killed more than five dozen civilians and a fatal attack on a US air force base in Manda Bay, Kenya, in January.
The leaders of the Shabab committed themselves to al-Qaeda in 2012. In 2016, shortly before she left office, the Obama administration viewed her as part of the Congressional-sanctioned war against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks. Under the Trump administration, the military stepped up air strikes on Shabab fighters.
Eric Schmitt, Charlie Savage and Helene Cooper reported from Washington and Thomas Gibbons-Neff from Kabul, Afghanistan. Jennifer Steinhauer and Nicholas Fandos reported from Washington.