President Donald Trump’s acting defense secretary, Christopher Miller, announced Friday that United States troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan have now reached 2,500 in each country — the lowest levels since either war began nearly two decades ago.
On Afghanistan, Miller said in a statement:
Today, U.S. force levels in Afghanistan have reached 2,500. Directed by President Trump, and as I announced on November 17, this drawdown brings U.S. forces in the country to their lowest levels since 2001. Today, the United States is closer than ever to ending nearly two decades of war and welcoming in an Afghan-owned, Afghan-led peace process to achieve a political settlement and a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.
He added that with a force of 2,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, “commanders have what they need to keep America, our people and our interests safe,” and that the U.S. would continue to fulfill its dual missions in Afghanistan of counterterrorism and training, advising, and assisting Afghan security forces.
Miller said the 2,500 force level in Afghanistan is an indication of the U.S.’s continued support towards the Afghan peace process and commitment to agreements with the Taliban and the Afghan government.
He also said that the Defense Department continues with planning capable of further reducing U.S. troop levels to zero by May, as per the U.S. agreement with the Taliban, but added, “Any such future drawdowns remain conditions-based.”
On Iraq, Miller said the drawdown of U.S. forces does not amount to a change in policy and the U.S. can continue to support Iraqi partners at that level, and called the reduction “evidence of real progress.”
Today, the United States has reduced the force levels in Iraq to 2,500 as directed by President Trump, and as I announced on November 17, 2020. The drawdown of U.S. force levels in Iraq is reflective of the increased capabilities of the Iraqi Security Forces. We have long anticipated that the force level required to support Iraq’s fight against ISIS would decrease as Iraq’s capability to manage the threat from ISIS improves. Our ability to reduce force levels is evidence of real progress.
The Obama administration withdrew all U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011, leaving a vacuum that led to rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the rapid deterioration of Iraqi security forces that American forces had trained.
The Obama administration then had to send in thousands of American forces after ISIS threatened to seize the capital city of Baghdad in 2014.
Miller said in his statement that U.S. and Coalition forces remain in Iraq to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS.
“The Government of Iraq and the U.S. Government agree that ISIS remains a threat and that a U.S. and Coalition presence remains vital. We will continue to have a counterterrorism platform in Iraq to support partner forces with airpower and intelligence,” he said.
“Most operations in Iraq were already being conducted by our Iraqi partners, enabled by U.S. and Coalition forces. We can continue to provide this support to our Iraqi partners at the reduced U.S. force level,” he added.
“The Iraqi people desire a secure, stable, and prosperous Iraq, able to defend itself against violent extremist groups and against those who would undermine Iraq’s security,” he said. “We are committed to supporting our Iraqi partners in their efforts to achieve those objectives.”