The United States plans to withdraw thousands of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan by the November elections, as President Trump tries to make good on his 2016 campaign promise to get America out of “endless wars,” according to America’s top general in the Middle East.
“We’re on a glide slope to be at 4,500 by the November time frame, [sic] late October, November time frame,” Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a telephone interview in reference to Afghanistan. He specified that the timetable to the 4,500 level would be determined, in part, by the military’s ability to withdraw the heavy equipment out of the country. McKenzie added that the military will still be able to successfully conduct its mission.
“At 4,500 we’re still going to be able to accomplish the core tasks that we want to accomplish,” he said. “And we’ve shown more than ample goodwill and our willingness to demonstrate that we don’t want to be an occupying force in this country. But we do have strategic interests, vital interests, that compel us to be certain that these entities, such as al-Qaeda and ISIS, can’t be guests there to attack the United States.”
Defense Secretary Mark Esper had said last month that troop levels in Afghanistan will drop below 5,000 troops before the election. Esper, too, highlighted the need to ensure that the United States is not “threatened by terrorists coming out of Afghanistan.”
There are currently about 8,600 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Draw Down in Iraq
Regarding Iraq, during a recent visit to the country, McKenzie said the planned troop reduction speaks of the confidence the administration has in the ability of U.S.-trained Iraqi security forces to handle the nation’s security situation. The troop decrease in Iraq will be from approximately 5,200 troops to about 3,000 by the end of September. With discussions inside the administration still ongoing, this announcement by the CENTCOM commander was the most definite statement issued by the administration.
Yet, McKenzie recently stated that he has doubts about a full U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq because of questions concerning the Taliban’s continued relationship with al-Qaeda and the violence that continues to plague the country. However, on Wednesday he spoke confidently about how the conditions in Iraq are finally stable.
While McKenzie said that the remaining U.S. troops would work by, with, and through Iraqi security forces as they battle the remaining ISIS terrorists, he didn’t mention the Iranian proxy militias. The Iranian proxies, which take their order from Tehran, have openly defied the Iraqi government. They have also attacked the U.S. troops more than three dozen times in the past year.
Those attacks finally reached a tipping point in January, when the U.S. conducted airstrikes on the militias responsible. That’s when MG Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian Quds Force commander overplayed his hand. He ordered that the militias attack the American Embassy.
The U.S. responded with a drone strike outside the Baghdad airport. The strike killed Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. In response, Angry Shiite Iraqi lawmakers passed a nonbinding resolution ordering the removal of all U.S.-led coalition forces from the country.
Iran responded with a ballistic missile attack on the al-Asad U.S. airbase. It the attack, over 100 Americans suffered blast and concussive injuries. Two months later, the U.S. hit the militias responsible with another airstrike.
The attacks have not stopped, and the troop reduction announcement may only embolden the militias even further. But the Trump administration has insisted that the time is now right for the United States to withdraw its troops and get out of Iraq.
“This is a president when he says I’m going to end endless wars, it’s not a slogan like it’s been for Democrats and past presidents,” White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, said in a television interview on Wednesday.