When Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller announced on Tuesday that the US military would halve its troop presence in Afghanistan by the end of January, he expressed the moderate option.
Four sources knowledgeable about the Trump administration’s internal debate in Afghanistan tell the Daily Beast that a dissenting opinion among Trump’s top advisers remains that the president should go well beyond the 2,500-strong force Miller unveiled, down to virtually zero by the time Joe Biden takes office. January 20.
This option, which is much less developed internally than accelerated withdrawal, is called “embassy-based presence”. Following a troop withdrawal, the option involves an increased complement of special operations forces, CIA officials and a shipping company from the special task force set up after the Benghazi disaster in 2012. to ensure greater security at the Embassy.
His supporters, the sources say, include Miller’s new senior Pentagon adviser, Doug Macgregor; White House Chief of Staff John McEntee, who was the architect of the Pentagon purge last week; and Trump’s oldest son, Don Jr.
Miller’s announcement appears to solve the problem, and the logistical challenge of reducing from 5,000 troops to an embassy-based presence in two months is enormous. “Today we announced the administration’s plans for Iraq and Afghanistan. They don’t include a zero withdrawal or some other similar alternative, ”said a senior Pentagon official.
“If they don’t make a decision in the coming weeks, the window to make a full withdrawal by Jan. 15-20 is closing,” a source close to the internal discussion said.
But supporters of the zero option believe Trump himself, who has long expressed his antipathy for the war in Afghanistan even by making it worse, is on their side and could become changeable – in particular, the sources said, so that he comes to accept that he is lost. -election and considers his inheritance. However, two sources close to the President’s thinking on the matter said he supported the idea that a reduction to 2,500 in itself would count to Trump as fulfilling his promise to “end endless wars” – even if they continue.
“The president is ready to accept this as a victory to end these foreign wars,” a senior Trump administration official said. “There are still a number of people close to him who are trying to push him to go further. He didn’t come down hard on both sides [yet], but there are still officials who believe in his “America First” promises that tell him the anti-Trump staff don’t want him to get big.
Last week Trump purged the Pentagon leadership, sacking Defense Secretary Mark Esper and three other senior officials. In their place are loyalists, led by Miller, a former Green Beret who first deployed to Afghanistan before the 2001 invasion.
Miller, in his first public comments to the Pentagon – which lasted eight minutes, after which he did not ask questions – used the rhetoric of waging the 19 Years’ War to a “successful and responsible conclusion” while announcing this which is equivalent to a residual force. He reduced the difference between a withdrawal and a full withdrawal. If Trump does not savagely upset Miller’s announced withdrawal, he will be the third US president to hand over the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to his successor. Biden will inherit from Trump a deal with the Taliban that calls for a full US withdrawal by May, but it is uncertain whether Biden will agree to it.
Reaching an agreement on a presence of 2,500 troops was difficult. The pullout hit a wall from the Republican opposition even before Miller had announced it, though elected Republicans rarely criticize Trump for not seeking to withdraw troops from a war zone. After Miller’s statement, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Tex.), The senior Republican on the House Armed Services Committee who is retiring from Congress, called it a mistake. “Further cuts in Afghanistan will also hurt negotiations there; the Taliban did nothing – did not fulfill any conditions – that would justify this reduction, ”he said in a statement.
Much of the senior military leadership in uniform rejects a withdrawal as a gift to the Taliban without reciprocal steps towards peace. General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was publicly arguing with Robert O’Brien, the national security adviser, over the downsizing. But O’Brien would be opposed to zeroing. Representatives from the White House and the National Security Council did not respond to a request for comment.
The effect either option will have on the inter-Afghan peace talks that followed the withdrawal agreement between the United States and the Taliban is hidden behind it. Bitter and barely underway, the talks were always supposed to result in a power-sharing deal between the fighters. And they happened against a backdrop of escalating Taliban violence against government forces that the military recently warned was jeopardizing the entire deal.
Miller sent a note around the Pentagon on Monday that many saw as an instruction not to resist or obstruct a withdrawal. The first of his “goals” for his brief tenure is to “[b]sound the current war to an end. He quoted unfaithful New England Patriots coach Bill Belichek as saying that the Pentagon’s “mindset” should be “Do your job … focus on your mission.” Complete the task at hand. “
This reflected the fact that the greatest resistance to an accelerated downsizing came from within the Pentagon. “It was essentially a [warning] a shot to say that you have to carry out what the authorities in place tell you, a shot at the military in uniform who can resist that, ”said one of the sources close to the debate.
Yet Miller did not “end the present war”. In his remarks, he described the withdrawals as heralding “the next phase of our campaign to defeat the terrorists”. In a Friday memo, Miller said the war against Al Qaeda “is not over. We are on the verge of defeating Al Qaeda and its associates, but we must avoid our past strategic mistake of not carrying the fight to the end.
Shortly after Miller’s remarks, Trump Jr. tweeted a Breitbart article quoting William Ruger, Trump’s last choice for ambassador to Afghanistan – Ruger did not take office – who advocates full withdrawal.
“Today’s announcement that the United States will withdraw more troops from Afghanistan and reduce the total to 2,500 troops in this war-torn country is good news. It also brings us closer to achieving the full withdrawal of US troops in accordance with the Doha deal with the Taliban and, most importantly, our national interests, ”Ruger told The Daily Beast.
“President Trump should continue to find ways to responsibly reduce U.S. exposure to Afghanistan and ensure that his historic deal to end America’s longest war is not easily unwound by those who would like us to stay. indefinitely in this war. We look forward to welcoming all of our courageous troops from Afghanistan.
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