New Defense chief signals potential troop drawdown: ‘All wars must end’


Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller signaled a potential U.S. troop reduction ahead in the Middle East in a memo sent to agency staff on Friday, saying, “All wars must end.”

Miller, who took over as Defense chief after President Trump fired Pentagon head Mark Esper via tweet this week, wrote that “we are not a people of perpetual war” while acknowledging that current conflicts are not over.

“As we prepare for the future, we remain committed to finishing the war that Al Qaida brought to our shores in 2001. This war isn’t over,” Miller said, referring to the war in Afghanistan.

“We are on the verge of defeating Al Qaida and its associates, but we must avoid our past strategic error of failing to see the fight through to the finish. Indeed, this fight has been long, our sacrifices have been enormous, and many are weary of war – I’m one of them,” he continued.

The acting Pentagon chief then wrote that “this is the critical phase in which we transition our efforts from a leadership to supporting role.”

“We are not a people of perpetual war – it is the antithesis of everything for which we stand and for which our ancestors fought,” Miller continued. “All wars must end.”

“Ending wars requires compromise and partnership. We met the challenge; we gave it our all. Now, it’s time to come home,” he wrote.

Speculation has increased that the Trump administration may push to quickly withdraw troops from Afghanistan after the president fired Esper this week, prompting a broader shake-up of Defense Department leadership.

Trump campaigned for the White House in 2016 on a promise to end “endless wars” and bring back U.S. troops from foreign conflicts, but efforts to draw down the American presence in the 19-year Afghanistan War have proved difficult. 

The administration signed a conditional peace deal with the Taliban earlier this year that required a full U.S. withdrawal by May if the Taliban came through on commitments to deny a haven to al Qaeda, though Trump has reportedly been frustrated by the pace of withdrawal.

The president asserted on Twitter last month that forces in Afghanistan should return to the U.S. by Christmas.

Shortly after his appointment this week as acting Defense secretary, Miller hired retired Army Col. Douglas Macgregor to serve as his senior adviser. 

The addition of Macgregor, who numerous times in the past year has advocated for the United States to pull its forces from conflicts in the Middle East, has signaled to some an effort by Trump to withdraw U.S. troops from the region in the final weeks of his presidency. 

Others have viewed the personnel changes as retaliatory, with former CIA Director John Brennan, a vocal Trump critic, arguing on Friday that the president was “score settling” with the recent personnel changes to the Pentagon.

“He wants people to be personally loyal to him,” Brennan said in an interview on CNN. “So therefore the firing of Mark Esper and the decapitating of civilian leadership within the Pentagon, I think, clearly is score settling on the part of Mr. Trump.”

Since Esper’s firing, several top Pentagon officials have also signaled their departures from their roles: the Pentagon’s top policy official, James Anderson; the agency’s top intelligence official, Joseph Kernan; Esper’s chief of staff, Jen Stewart; and Esper’s deputy chief of staff, Alexis Ross.

“It’s helpful to decapitate the senior civilian leadership at the Pentagon in preparation of some aggressive use of the military to bolster the president’s claims that he has won this election,” one former defense official who has stayed close to the Pentagon’s current senior leadership told McClatchy this week. 

“That is probably the most worrisome, most extreme reason they could be making these decisions,” the official said of the removal and quick replacement of Pentagon officials. 

While all major news outlets projected President-elect Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 election last week, Trump has since refused to concede, instead repeating claims that there were instances of voter fraud in key battleground states as part of an attempt by Democrats to steal the election from him. 

These claims have since been disputed by election experts, local election officials and courts.

Miller maintained on Friday that the military “remains strong” despite the leadership shake-up.

“I want to assure the American public and our allies and partners that the Department of Defense remains strong and continues its vital work of protecting our homeland, our people and our interests around the world,” Miller said at the Pentagon ahead of a meeting with his Lithuanian counterpart.

Tags Afghanistan Afghanistan War Al-Qaeda Christopher Miller Department of Defense Donald Trump Douglas Macgregor Iraq Joe Biden John Brennan Mark Esper McClatchy Pentagon troop withdrawal
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