Several defense experts lauded the Trump administration’s decision to proceed with troop draw-downs in Iraq and Afghanistan, but said the president could go further as he makes his way out in January.
“He could rip the bandaid off and and end America’s longest war in a few weeks,” said Gil Barndollar, a senior fellow at Defense Priorities, a think tank, as President Donald Trump orders troops in Iraq and Afghanistan down to 2,500 each. There currently remain 4,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and 3,000 in Iraq. Each have witnessed a sustained U.S. military presence for 20 years.
Logistically, Barndollar said during a Monday call with reporters, resources are there to bring the troops home. Trump “certainly has the ability to do this.” Tactically, Barndollar emphasized, it’s the threat of U.S. return to the region that will serve as the greatest tool to deter the its resurgence into a breeding ground of terrorism.
Retired Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis, a senior fellow at Defense Priorities who served two tours in Afghanistan, concurred with his colleague, and added there’s no reason the president shouldn’t disband U.S. troop presence in Iraq and Afghanistan altogether. Davis touted innovations in U.S. intelligence operations that have honed their ability to take out threats abroad from wherever they start.
“This is good news,” Davis said of Trump’s decision, “but it’s not enough. There is no value in staying in Afghanistan in any numbers… We keep ourselves safe from terrorist threats no matter where in the world they come through.”
The 2,500 troops being left behind, Davis said, “don’t prevent anything in either Afghanistan or Iraq.”
While the president’s final effort to reduce the U.S. presence in the Middle East has earned the White House praise from some experts and ending Middle Eastern wars is supported by a large, bipartisan majority of American voters, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell condemned the decision Monday.
“A rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan now would hurt our allies and delight the people who wish us harm,” McConnell said in a statement. “The consequences of a premature American exit would likely be even worse than President Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq in 2011, which fueled the rise of ISIS and a new round of global terrorism.”
Yet the remaining 2,500 U.S. troops, said Defense Priorities Policy Director Benjamin Friedman, don’t do anything to serve American or Afghan interests. While some point to their presence gave the Afghans leverage in talks with the Taliban, Friedman said the leverage isn’t significant given the “presence is fleeing.”
Friedman also faulted the administration for neglecting to touch troops in Syria, and instead remaining focused on Iraq and Afghanistan.
“What is the mission now in Syria? I don’t think anyone knows,” he said.