The US has decreased its number of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan to 2,500, accomplishing a key goal of President Donald Trump as he prepares to leave office next week, the Pentagon announced Friday.
The Afghanistan drawdown may run afoul of Congress, which just two weeks ago prohibited the Pentagon from using funds allocated this year or last to decrease its forces levels below 4,000 in the war-torn country.
The US had about 4,500 troops in Afghanistan, and the National Defense Authorization Act, enacted over Trump's veto Jan. 1, required the Pentagon to submit a report to Congress on how any potential reduction would have on US military operations there before it acted.
Acting Secretary Christopher Miller confirmed the new force levels in separate statements without acknowledging the congressional restrictions in Afghanistan.
"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. "With a force of 2,500, commanders have what they need to keep America, our people and our interests safe."
Under a plan instituted by Trump the Pentagon is seeking to completely withdraw US troops from Afghanistan by May, but it is unclear if incoming President Joe Biden will continue to implement the policy when he takes office Jan. 20.
While intra-Afghan talks to end the conflict are ongoing there has been a marked increase in Taliban attacks on government forces recently.
On Tuesday, two female Afghan soldiers were killed in a drive by shooting the government has blamed on the Taliban. The attack came just two days after a senior government official was among three people killed in the capital Kabul in a bombing.
On Iraq, Miller said the reduction from roughly 3,000 troops is consistent with the US-led anti-Daesh/ISIS coalition's shift away from military operations to training local Iraqi forces.
"We have long anticipated that the force level required to support Iraq’s fight against ISIS would decrease as Iraq’s capability to manage the threat from ISIS improves. Our ability to reduce force levels is evidence of real progress," Miller said.
"We will continue to have a counterterrorism platform in Iraq to support partner forces with airpower and intelligence. Most operations in Iraq were already being conducted by our Iraqi partners, enabled by U.S. and Coalition forces," he added.