Tuesday 17th November 2020
Before US President Donald Trump has to hand over the office to his successor Biden, he wants to pull the thousands of US soldiers out of Afghanistan. His plans are not only met with opposition from NATO. There is also criticism from Trump’s own ranks.
The incumbent US President Donald Trump wants to further reduce the number of US troops abroad before the end of his term in January according to media reports. Commanders were preparing for an order to reduce the number of soldiers in Afghanistan from currently around 4,500 to around 2,500 by January 15, the broadcaster CNN reported on Monday, before more media followed suit. There was initially no official confirmation.
Leading Republicans in the US Congress and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned against rash actions. Trump’s term ends on January 20th. The Democrat Joe Biden emerged victorious from the presidential election on November 3rd. The war in Afghanistan is the longest in US history. American soldiers have been in the crisis state since 2001. After the attacks of September 11th of that year, US-led troops marched in there. For almost two decades, Islamists in Afghanistan have been fighting for the withdrawal of international troops.
According to the reports, Trump is expected to command further cuts in soldiers in Iraq. According to CNN, 3,000 US soldiers are still deployed there. Trump had already announced a reduction in the troop strength there from 5200 to 2000 men in September. The New York Times reported, citing a draft of the order, that almost all of the more than 700 soldiers stationed in Somalia were to leave the country.
Trump promises soldiers to return by Christmas
In the 2016 election campaign, the Republican Trump had promised to bring US troops home. Almost four weeks before the election, he surprisingly announced on Twitter in early October that the soldiers remaining in Afghanistan should be back in the USA by Christmas.
Shortly after his loss to Biden – which Trump has still not admitted – he sacked Defense Secretary Mark Esper. Other management positions were also filled. For example, former Army officer Douglas Macgregor has been appointed Senior Advisor to Executive Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller. Macgregor is a critic of the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Apparently, after consultations with leading military officials in November, Esper spoke out against a further withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, since the necessary conditions had not yet been met, including with regard to the security situation. The Washington Post first reported a confidential letter to the White House at the weekend, and CNN confirmed the report on Monday.
The USA signed an agreement with the militant Islamist Taliban at the end of February that promises the gradual withdrawal of all US and NATO forces by the end of April 2021. Among other things, the Taliban committed to peace talks with the government in Kabul, which began in September. However, the process had recently stalled.
Republicans: “withdrawal would harm allies”
The price for leaving the country too quickly or in an uncoordinated manner could be very high, warned NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg. Afghanistan threatens to become a retreat again for terrorists planning attacks on NATO countries. In addition, the Islamic State (IS) could then build up the terror caliphate in the country that it lost in Syria and Iraq. “We have been in Afghanistan for almost 20 years, and no NATO ally wants to stay longer than necessary,” stressed Stoltenberg. In the event of further reductions in US troop levels, NATO would continue its work to train, advise and support the Afghan security forces. At the same time, if the US withdraws completely, NATO would have to end its mission because the other allies are not militarily in a position to continue it alone.
Warnings of a premature withdrawal from the country also issued leading politicians from Trump’s Republicans in the US Congress. “A quick withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan would harm our allies and please the people who wish us harm,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The senior Republican in the House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee, Michael McCaul, said: “A hasty US withdrawal would not only jeopardize the Afghan government’s ability to negotiate, it would also endanger US interests in the fight against terrorism.”
It was initially unclear what effects further US cuts could have on the Bundeswehr’s engagement. Around 1000 soldiers are currently stationed in the north of the country. Federal Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said a possible troop reduction or withdrawal would be linked to a peace treaty. The desired results are not yet available. The CDU politician emphasized that the security of the Bundeswehr soldiers on site had “top priority”. The mission should also be ended in such a way “that what they fought for is also secured”.