President Donald Trump Thursday praised what he said was a “19-year low” in the number of US troops in Afghanistan, just days before he is set to leave the White House on less than favorable terms with the public.
In an agreement reached last year, Trump, who had long promised to end America’s longest war, signed the United States up to a full withdrawal in coming months.
But that depends on the Taliban meeting security conditions, which the Afghan government says have not been met. President-elect Joe Biden and his advisors have so far given few clues as to their plans.
In November, the Pentagon said it would reduce the number of US forces in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 by mid-January.
But this month, Congress enacted a defense policy bill - overriding a veto by Trump - that bars using funds appropriated for fiscal years 2020 and 2021 to pay for a drawdown below 4,000 US troops until acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller submits to Congress a “comprehensive, interagency assessment of the risks and impacts.”
It is unclear how many troops have been moved out of Afghanistan since the law passed.
One defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the US troop level already is close to 3,000.
The legislation also requires a risk assessment before the number of US troops can be reduced below 2,000.
Apart from Afghanistan, Trump also said the number of US troops in Iraq and Syria were “also at the lowest point in many years.”
There are an estimated 5,000 troops in Iraq, where the US has vowed to reduce its presence on the ground. It remains unclear how many US military members there are in Syria, but their presence is believed to be in the northeast, near oil fields.
After having his Twitter account suspended, Trump has had to revert to using his press office at the White House to release statements.
“I will always be committed to stopping the endless wars,” he said in Thursday’s statement.
“It has been a great honor to rebuild our military and support our brave men and women in uniform. $2.5 trillion invested, including in beautiful new equipment—all made in the U.S.A.,” Trump said.