The Pentagon announced on Friday that the U.S. military has reduced the number of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq to 2,500, which is the lowest level in nearly two decades since the outbreak of the war.
Outgoing President Donald Trump, seeking to fulfill a campaign promise to end the two wars launched after the 9/11 attacks, had ordered force levels slashed in both countries to that level by January 15 — despite initial pushback from the Pentagon.
Acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller said progress towards peace in both countries permits the cuts without a decrease in security for Americans and their counterparts.
“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 said in a statement.
More cuts, he said, depend on the progress of the peace talks between the Afghanistan government and Taliban insurgents.
The US invaded Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The Taliban regime then in place had hosted Al Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden.
The regime was quickly overthrown, but a rebellion was launched. In recent years, since NATO withdrew its combat forces in 2014, violence has surged across the country, and civilians have paid a disproportionate price for this.
Washington reached an agreement with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar on February 29, 2020 to begin withdrawing troops in exchange for the security of the armed elements and promised peace talks with Kabul.
Those talks are ongoing, but have stuttered amid violence and accusations of slow progress. Meanwhile the Taliban has continued its deadly attacks on Afghan security forces and civilians alike.
Even as the drawdown was announced on Friday, officials in Afghanistan said that at least nine Afghan security personnel were killed when Taliban militants attacked police checkpoints overnight in the restive northern province of Kunduz.