House defense panel chairman: Trump has ‘no plan’ to leave Afghanistan by Christmas

Greg Nash

The top lawmaker on the House’s defense committee said Thursday the Trump administration had “no plan” to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year, despite President Trump’s assertion that forces will be home by Christmas.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said he didn’t know of any plan to quickly pull out the roughly 4,500 troops still in Afghanistan. He said that he instead expects the military to continue a gradual withdrawal.

Trump earlier this month caused confusion about the U.S. plan in Afghanistan when he tweeted that “we should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas.”

Smith said bringing troop numbers down “makes a lot of sense,” but he criticized Trump’s assertion that it would happen in such a short timeline.

“Now, there’s been sort of a plan to do that and there’s been sort of a tweet [that] we should get out by Christmas. Well, there’s no plan to get out by Christmas, there’s not. The White House hasn’t submitted one and the Pentagon doesn’t have one.”

Trump’s suggestion, which came just hours after his own national security adviser said the U.S. would draw down to about 2,500 troops in Afghanistan by early next year, came in the final weeks of a particularly contentious presidential race.

Top Pentagon officials have said they have not yet been ordered to pull troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year.

Trump in 2016 promised to bring all U.S. forces home from “endless wars” as he sought to cast himself against policies of Democrats and Republicans on Iraq and Afghanistan. 

But Trump was met by fierce opposition within his administration and among lawmakers in both parties when he tried to withdraw troops from war zones.

Trump’s Democratic rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, has also said he would withdraw most troops, but leave a small contingent of special forces there to continue conducting counterterrorism operations.

Smith said that “continuing on an aggressive drawdown plan is probably in our best interest,” as it’s not prudent to wait until there’s peace in Afghanistan to leave.

“We’ve been there almost 20 years now. I think it’s pretty clear that our military is not going to solve that problem,” Smith said.

He added that the use of partner forces and intelligence could help deter terrorist threats from the country.

The U.S. military drew down to about 8,600 troops over the summer, in line with the administration’s agreement with the Taliban, signed in February.

Trump and other administration officials have previously said the U.S. military is now in the process of lowering that number to about 4,500 by Election Day.

But the U.S.-Taliban deal, which calls for a full U.S. withdrawal by May 2021, stipulates that will only happen if the Taliban diminishes violence and upholds its commitment to deny safe haven to al Qaeda and other terrorist groups intent on attacking the West. U.S. defense officials have said the Taliban have still not met such requirements.

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