US to reduce troops in Iraq, Afghanistan

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Kenneth McKenzie, Commander of the US Central Command, has confirmed that Washington would withdraw thousands of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan by November.

On Wednesday, the Politico news website reported that McKenzie, during a ceremony for Operation Inherent Resolve with the Iraqi Defence Minister, said that US troop presence in Iraq would be reduced to 3,000 by the end of September, reports Xinhua news agency.

The force reduction is due to “the great progress the Iraqi forces have made and in consultation and coordination with the Government of Iraq and our coalition partners”, he said.

Currently, there are over 5,000 US troops deployed in Iraq to support domestic forces in battles against remnants of the Islamic State (IS).

McKenzie noted that the reduced size of the troops would still be able to advise and assist Iraqi forces.

The top US general in the Middle East told several media outlets later in the day that American troops in Afghanistan would also be decreased to about 4,500 level by early November.

The Pentagon said in July that Washington maintained its force level in Afghanistan at mid-8,000s, meeting the conditions of the US-Taliban agreement signed in late February.

The agreement also called for a full withdrawal of the US military forces from Afghanistan by May 2021 if the Taliban meets the conditions of the deal, including severing ties with terrorist groups.

The numbers and time frame of the troop reduction plan that McKenzie disclosed on Wednesday were mainly in line with previous reports and discussions.

The Wall Street Journal said in an article last month that the Pentagon would reduce military presence in Iraq by roughly one-third over the next two or three months, bringing US troop numbers down to 3,500.

Pentagon chief Mark Esper also confirmed last month that US troops in Afghanistan would be lowered to less than 5,000 by the end of November.

As the November 3 election looms, President Donald Trump has doubled down efforts to seek to fulfil his campaign promise to bring troops home and to pull his country out of “endless wars”.

During his meeting with visiting Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi last month, Trump reiterated his intention to withdraw troops from the war-torn country.

Trump also has sought a full withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The war in Afghanistan, which has caused about 2,400 US military deaths, is the longest one in American history.

The troop reduction announcement came amid the development of a delicate relationship between Trump and the military.

In Monday’s White House briefing, Trump claimed senior leaders in the Pentagon probably didn’t like him “because they want to do nothing but fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy”.

Army Chief of Staff James McConville on Tuesday defended military leaders, by saying “the senior leaders would only recommend sending our troops to combat when it is required in national security and a last resort”.

The news also came days after an article published in The Atlantic, quoting anonymous sources, saying that Trump disparaged slain US service members by referring to them as “losers” and “suckers”. Trump and White House officials have vehemently denied the report.

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