The planned withdrawal of US troop from Afghanistan and Iraq are “fraught with risk” but the military will not hesitate to strike back if terrorists try to undermine this transition, the newly hired Pentagon chief said on Wednesday.
Speaking at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Christopher Miller, who served in both Afghanistan and Iraq as an Army Special Forces officer, said President Donald Trump's order to cut the US military presence to 2,500 troops in those countries by January 15 was a step toward ending the wars responsibly. The withdrawal of troops will come five days before Democrat Joe Biden assumes control of the White House and the military.
Mr Miller announced the decision to cut troops on Tuesday at the Pentagon, and he elaborated on the plan at Bragg. He said the reductions would be done in a way that “protects our fighting men and women and our hard-earned gains”.
“At the same time, should any malign actors underestimate our resolve or attempt to undermine our efforts, we will not hesitate to restore deterrence and defeat any and all threats,” he added, speaking at Bragg’s outdoor Special Operations Memorial Plaza.
“As we implement the President’s orders, we recognise that transitions and campaigns are fraught with risk and unexpected challenges and opportunities."
Some members of Congress, including Republicans, have argued that the military move is unwise or premature.
Chuck Hagel, a Republican who served as defence secretary under the Barack Obama administration, said earlier this week that Mr Trump should have left troop-reduction decisions to President-elect Joe Biden, since the new administration will have to deal with the consequences of military withdrawals. Mr Trump has not involved the Biden administration in critical military briefings, as he has yet to concede the presidential election result.
“It sends a clear signal to the Taliban and strengthens their hand in negotiations with the Kabul government," said Mr Hagel. He added that he favours finding a way to end US military involvement in Afghanistan without sabotaging the government’s chances of achieving a viable peace deal.
“This is not going to end well for the Afghan government.”
On Wednesday, two House members who are veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — Democrat Seth Moulton of Massachusetts and Republican Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — sent a letter to Mr Miller and Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, requesting answers to numerous questions about the ramifications of Mr Trump’s decision, including how pulling out troops will affect stability in the Middle East.
“We believe that there is strong bipartisan support from Congress and the administration for both Iraq and Afghanistan,” they wrote. “Any premature drawdown without thoughtful consideration of the real-world conditions on the ground would be ill-advised. Additionally, we continue to be concerned by the growing ISIS activity in Afghanistan and Iran’s influence in Iraq.”
Although the State Department has not announced a pull-out of diplomatic personnel from either country this week in conjunction with Mr Trump’s announcement, there is concern in Congress that a substantial downscaling of troops could affect the security of the US embassies in Baghdad and Kabul and the safety of embassy personnel.