Trump Orders the Removal of 2000 Troops from Afghanistan before Inauguration Day

Newly installed acting-Defence secretary Chris Miller announced last week that the US will withdraw roughly 2000 troops from Iraq before Inauguration day.

Trump Orders the Removal of 2000 Troops from Afghanistan before Inauguration Day

(Edit: First published 03:41 2020-11-21)

Combat operations ended in Afghanistan more than five years ago, so many may be wondering why the withdrawal of Western forces is such a big deal. But allied troops remain in the country in vitally important non-combat capacities, providing stability and supporting the Afghan-Taliban peace process.

Well, President Trump may have had to fire US secretary of defence Mark Esper to do it, but he has succeeded in forcing the Pentagon to fulfil his final foreign policy ambition - to decisively end decades of "endless and needless foreign wars."

However, in doing so, the President has forgotten the qualifier he put on that election promise all the way back in 2016: that the conflict would be brought to a "successful and responsible conclusion" before doing so.

Recently sacked Secretary of Defense Mark Esper's claims that Trump was looking for "yes men" to fill out the final cabinet of his administration seems to be supported by the rather unceremonious way in which he was dismissed. His time in the cabinet ended only a few days ago with the president tweeting: "Mark Esper has been terminated. I would like to thank him for his service."

This isn't the first time Esper has been at odds with Trump over policy issues, either. This summer, reports indicated that Esper refused to invoke the 1807 Insurrection Act suggested by Trump in response to growing civil unrest:

“I say this not only as secretary of Defense, but also as a former soldier and a former member of the National Guard, the option to use active-duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort, and only in the most urgent and dire situations. We are not in one of those situations now."

And it isn't the first time Trump's Secretary of Defence has departed over disagreements with Trump on matters of foreign policy. In 2018, defence secretary Jim 'Mad Dog' Mattis resigned over the decision to prematurely withdraw troops from Syria.

So, why is Trump withdrawing troops? The president appears to be treating the Afghan-Taliban peace process like a business deal. As such, he seems reluctant to be held back by the complex religious and ideological issues which are at the heart of the divide in the country.

Trump has previously expressed dissatisfaction with the Afghan government for refusing to make concessions with the Taliban - including the release of 5000 Taliban prisoners - despite the fact that the Taliban had failed to fulfil their side of the deal and reduce attacks by their militants.

As a result, it appears that the president is ready to walk away from the table. But walking away isn't sticking to a status quo, it's allowing the Taliban to win. The Trump Administration's negotiation tactics have been panned by the Afghanistan National Security Council, with spokesman Javid Faisal writing: "to release thousands of terrorists, get nothing in return, and then withdraw, is a failed strategy for war and peace ... such policy blunders embolden terrorists."

With US defence organs arguing in no uncertain terms that conditions on the ground do not meet the requirements for removal of forces, and with US allies confirming that they will be forced to follow suit, the pressure is on to ensure the Taliban meet their end of the bargain. But with reduced forces in the area, there's no question that doing so will become far more difficult.

Finally, this development in the long Afghanistan war comes as the UK is contemplating a massive defence spending boost. Perhaps our "limited options" in foreign policy without the backing of our transatlantic ally will be enough to convince sceptics that Britain would benefit from the greater agency on the international stage.