Trump considering major drawdown in US troops in Afghanistan: reports

The Trump administration is considering a major drawdown in the number of U.S. military personnel stationed in Afghanistan, according to multiple reports Thursday.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the administration is considering a "significant drawdown" of U.S. troops in the country, saying it could start as soon as within several weeks.

Reuters, citing two officials, similarly reported that the administration was considering a "significant reduction" in military personnel in the country.

ADVERTISEMENT

The White House and Pentagon did not immediately return requests for comment from The Hill on Thursday.

The reports came shortly before news emerged Thursday afternoon that Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Mattis downplays Afghanistan papers | 'We probably weren't that good at' nation building | Judiciary panel approves two impeachment articles | Stage set for House vote next week James Mattis: Afghanistan papers not 'revelatory' Overnight Defense: Watchdog to audit company's border wall contract | Pentagon to step up vetting of foreign students after Pensacola | Report finds former defense official sexually harassed staffers MORE had submitted his resignation to President TrumpDonald John TrumpRepublicans aim to avoid war with White House over impeachment strategy New York Times editorial board calls for Trump's impeachment Trump rips Michigan Rep. Dingell after Fox News appearance: 'Really pathetic!' MORE, effective in February. Mattis wrote in his resignation letter that Trump should choose a replacement "whose views are better aligned with yours."

Reports about a drawdown in Afghanistan also come one day after Trump stoked anger and confusion among a number of lawmakers and officials with his surprise decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria.

Several lawmakers said they were not given any advance notice about the president's announcement involving the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Trump has defended the decision in a series of tweets and comments over the past 24 hours, saying he wanted to bring troops home.

There are currently more than 14,000 U.S. service members in Afghanistan, primarily to advise and assist Afghan Security Forces in the fight against al Qaeda and other militant groups.

Trump had originally campaigned on the promise to end “nation-building” missions such as efforts to train Afghan troops, and shortly after taking office in 2017 he made clear he had a desire to pull troops from the region. 

After being persuaded by defense officials and then-national security adviser H.R. McMaster, however, Trump introduced a new strategy in August 2017 that included an indefinite time commitment and sending thousands more troops to the country.

Trump in that speech acknowledged his “original instinct was to pull out,” but he said the calculation is different “when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office.”

In announcing his decision to withdraw troops from Syria on Wednesday, Trump claimed in a tweet, “We have defeated ISIS in Syria.”

More than 2,000 U.S. service members are in Syria in the fight against ISIS and to back Syrian Kurdish forces in the mission.

“I think it shows how serious the president is about wanting to come out of conflicts,” a senior U.S. official told The Wall Street Journal about the Syria decision. “I think he wants to see viable options about how to bring conflicts to a close.”

Several lawmakers said they were not given any advance notice about the president's announcement involving the fight against ISIS.

“I don’t know what they’ve done, but this is chaos,” Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamRepublicans aim to avoid war with White House over impeachment strategy New York Times editorial board calls for Trump's impeachment Graham invites Giuliani to testify about recent Ukraine trip MORE (R-S.C.), a staunch Trump ally and Armed Services Committee member, told reporters Wednesday. 

Graham also issued a statement ripping into Trump's decision, calling a withdrawal from Syria an “Obama-like mistake.” 

The State Department and the Pentagon, meanwhile, both issued statements that seemed to contradict the president’s assertion on ISIS. 

“The coalition has liberated the ISIS-held territory, but the campaign against ISIS is not over,” Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said in the statement. “For force protection and operational security reasons, we will not provide further details.”

– Rebecca Kheel contributed reporting

Updated at 6:08 p.m.