US announces further drawdown of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq before Biden takes office
Posted November 17, 2020 2:18 p.m. EST
Updated November 18, 2020 10:51 a.m. EST
CNN — Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher C. Miller announced Tuesday that the US will withdraw thousands more US troops from Afghanistan and Iraq by Jan 15, 2021 -- just days before President-elect Joe Biden takes office, confirming plans first reported by CNN on Monday.
Miller said the withdrawal of 2,500 troops from both countries "does not equate change" to US policies or objectives.
Currently there are approximately 4,500 US troops in Afghanistan and 3,000 troops in Iraq.
A senior defense official said the announcement is "consistent" with what President Donald Trump has publicly announced earlier this year and is "consistent with his promise to the American People."
A series of sweeping changes at the Pentagon last week that started with the firing of Defense Secretary of Mark Esper saw Trump loyalists installed in influential. Knowledgeable sources told CNN's Jake Tapper last week that the White House-directed purge at the Defense Department may have been motivated by the fact that Esper and his team were pushing back on a premature withdrawal from Afghanistan, which would be carried out before the required conditions on the ground were met.
The senior defense official claimed that "there is no reduction in capability" as a result of the drawdown, calling the reduction a "collaborative" decision while refusing to address a recent Pentagon memo that said conditions on the ground in Afghanistan did not warrant additional drawdowns.
Prior to his firing, Esper sent a classified memo to the White House asserting that it was the unanimous recommendation of the chain of command that the US not draw down its troop presence in Afghanistan any further until conditions were met, sources familiar with the memo tell CNN.
The assessment from the chain of command -- Esper, US Central Command leader Marine Gen. Kenneth "Frank" McKenzie and commander of NATO's mission in Afghanistan Gen. Austin Miller -- stated that the necessary conditions had not been met. Others agreed, sources have told CNN.
Earlier on Tuesday, a newly released report from the Pentagon inspector general said the terrorist group al Qaeda is supportive of the Trump administration's plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan as well the US agreement with the Taliban, adding that the Taliban carried out attacks on US and coalition personnel since it was signed.
"The DIA reported that al-Qaeda leaders support the agreement because it does not require the Taliban to publicly renounce al-Qaeda and the deal includes a timeline for the United States and coalition forces to withdraw—accomplishing one of al-Qaeda's main goals," the report said, referring to the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency.
This story is breaking and will be updated.