Partial withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan wreaks havoc in Washington

The Pentagon announced Tuesday, November 17 that the United States would reduce the number of its troops in Afghanistan and Iraq in mid-January 2021. A decision feared by many elected Republican and some allies in Washington who fear to see the groups extremists are strengthening in the Middle East.

"This is a hasty and unexplained decision", criticized even within the ranks of the Republican Party, notes Foreign Policy magazine. While outgoing presidents typically refrain from taking major initiatives just before stepping down, Donald Trump on Tuesday decided to drastically reduce the US military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan by the end of his term.

The number of troops deployed in Afghanistan will be reduced from 4,500 to 2,500 while half a thousand US servicemen will be repatriated from Iraq, leaving around 2,500 troops on the ground. Defense officials speaking on condition of anonymity also told CNN that the Trump administration could withdraw more than 500 Somalia-based troops in the near future.

On Tuesday, "several signs indicated that the violence was far from subsiding" in Iraq and Afghanistan, notes the Wall Street Journal. “Almost immediately after the Pentagon announced the partial withdrawal of troops, several mortars or rockets were fired in Baghdad, including near the US embassy,” killing a child, reports The New York Times. The attacks could mark the resumption of a campaign against US interests in Iraq by Iranian-backed militias, the Wall Street Journal estimates.

"Risk of a hasty departure"

In Afghanistan, a report released Tuesday by the Defense Department's inspector general concluded that levels of violence remained above seasonal norms and that the Taliban were targeting Afghan security forces and Afghan government officials. “If it had not been for dozens of US airstrikes in recent weeks in Afghanistan, after Taliban fighters threatened to invade several districts of Kandahar, the city would now be under siege,” officials said. Security Policy to the New York Times.

Worried, several officials of the Republican Party as well as the secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) have warned the Trump administration against leaving Iraq and Afghanistan too hasty.

“In a rare criticism of American policy”, NATO boss Jens Stoltenberg estimated that “Afghanistan could once again become a haven for international terrorist organizations which seek to harm Western countries if foreign forces leave too abruptly” , reports the Washington Post. Sacked last week, former defense minister Mark Esper argued for the status quo, as did other US military officials opposed to a pullout until violence on the ground subsides.

By deciding to partially withdraw US troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, Donald Trump is keeping a promise made in 2016 during his election campaign. He vowed at the time that he would end the "endless wars" the United States is involved in overseas. If he takes this initiative at the end of his term, it is because the Republican "is now considering another presidential candidacy in 2024", notes the English-language edition of the Guardian. In four years, "he will use those kept promises to prove that he successfully ruled the country before he was forced to step down due to a rigged election."

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