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Top Democrat calls Trump's Afghan drawdown 'the right policy decision' as others warn of 'mistake'

Top Democrat calls Trump's Afghan drawdown 'the right policy decision' as others warn of 'mistake'
© Greg Nash

The Democratic chairman of the House Armed Services Committee is backing the Trump administration’s drawdown in Afghanistan even as other lawmakers in both parties warn about the dangers of a hasty withdrawal.

“After speaking with the acting secretary this morning, I believe reducing our forward deployed footprint in Afghanistan down to 2,500 troops is the right policy decision,” Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithThe pandemic and a 'rainy day fund' for American charity House Democrat accuses Air Force of attempting to influence Georgia runoff races US national security policy in the 117th Congress and a new administration MORE (D-Wash.) said in a statement Tuesday.

“At the same time, this reduction must be responsibly and carefully executed to ensure stability in the region,” he added.

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Smith’s statement comes after acting Defense Secretary Christoper Miller announced President TrumpDonald John TrumpVenezuela judge orders prison time for 6 American oil executives Trump says he'll leave White House if Biden declared winner of Electoral College The Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation MORE has ordered the U.S. military to reduce the number of troops in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 by Jan. 15, days before Trump will leave office. Trump has also ordered a drawdown in Iraq to 2,500 troops from 3,000 by the same deadline.

The announcement follows a leadership purge at the Pentagon last week, including the firing of Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Trump loyalist to lead Pentagon transition | Democrats ask VA for vaccine distribution plan | Biden to get classified intel reports Ex-Nunes aide linked to Biden conspiracy theories will lead Pentagon transition Brennan takes final shot at Trump: 'I leave his fate to our judicial system, his infamy to history, & his legacy to a trash heap' MORE as Defense secretary, seen as paving the way for troop withdrawals.

It also comes after months of statements from U.S. military officials that the conditions on the ground in Afghanistan do not warrant dropping below 4,500 troops, and that the Taliban has not upheld its end of this year's agreement with the United States.

The deal, signed in February, calls for a full U.S. withdrawal by this coming May if the Taliban upholds counterterrorism commitments such as denying safe haven to al Qaeda.

In addition to not yet breaking with al Qaeda, the Taliban stepped up attacks on Afghan forces after signing the deal, eliciting repeated condemnations from U.S. officials. A Pentagon watchdog also confirmed earlier Tuesday that the Taliban has attacked the U.S.-led coalition in violation of the deal.

In his statement, Smith argued that “Americans and Afghans alike are ready for the violence to end” after nearly 20 years of war.

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“It is clear that groups like ISIS-K and the Taliban will continue to fight and sow chaos, but ultimately it is up to the Afghans to find a sustainable path to peace,” he said.

Still, Smith said the drawdown should be coordinately “closely” with allies, something the Trump administration has not yet done.

“Our primary goal has been, and continues to be, the prevention of transnational terrorists from launching an attack against the United States from Afghanistan,” he said. “In order to contain the terrorist threat as we draw down our troop levels, it is critical that we coordinate the drawdown closely with our allies, as well as our partners in the Afghan government, to protect our interests and those of our allies in Afghanistan.”

Miller called Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Tuesday and also spoke with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg ahead of the announcement. Stoltenberg issued a strong statement Tuesday morning warning that “the price for leaving too soon or in an uncoordinated way could be very high.”

Senate Armed Services Committee James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeHouse Democrats back slower timeline for changing Confederate base names Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee Overnight Defense: Trump orders troop drawdown in Afghanistan and Iraq | Key Republicans call Trump plan a 'mistake' MORE (R-Okla.), a staunch Trump supporter, also signaled support for the drawdowns in Afghanistan and Iraq, saying Miller and national security adviser Robert O’Brien assured him they are “consulting with our allies, and that, with their plan, we will be able to carry out our mission of protecting the American people from terrorist attacks originating in Afghanistan, safeguarding Afghan gains and supporting our partners and allies.”

But Inhofe also said he is awaiting more details from the Pentagon and from the top U.S. general in Afghanistan, Gen. Scott Miller.

“As we evaluate the situation in Afghanistan and coordinate with our allies, we must ensure that our strategy and posture reflect the conditions on the ground,” Inhofe said in a statement.

Other lawmakers in both parties blasted the drawdowns.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellAs Biden administration ramps up, Trump legal effort drags on Harris says she has 'not yet' spoken to Pence Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year MORE (R-Ky.) warned it would be a “mistake” to precipitously yank troops from Afghanistan or Iraq and urged the administration to make no major defense or foreign policy changes for the rest of the year.

The top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryOvernight Defense: Formal negotiations inch forward on defense bill with Confederate base name language | Senators look to block B UAE arms sales | Trump administration imposes Iran sanctions over human rights abuses Defense bill moves to formal negotiations with Confederate name fight looming Overnight Defense: Trump orders troop drawdown in Afghanistan and Iraq | Key Republicans call Trump plan a 'mistake' MORE (Texas), also called the drawdowns in Afghanistan and Iraq a “mistake.”

“Further reductions in Afghanistan will also undercut negotiations there; the Taliban has done nothing – met no condition — that would justify this cut,” Thornberry, who is retiring from Congress at the end of the year, said in a statement.

Sen. Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthOvernight Defense: Trump orders troop drawdown in Afghanistan and Iraq | Key Republicans call Trump plan a 'mistake' Top Democrat calls Trump's Afghan drawdown 'the right policy decision' as others warn of 'mistake' Overnight Defense: Another Defense official resigns | Pentagon chief says military 'remains strong' despite purge | Top contender for Biden DOD secretary would be historic pick MORE (D-Ill.), an Iraq veteran, similarly warned about undermining intra-Afghan peace talks.

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“At a time when we are finally seeing serious peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban, Donald Trump is unilaterally taking one of our best bargaining chips off the table—and getting nothing in return,” Duckworth said.

Sen. Ben SasseBen SasseTrump transition order follows chorus of GOP criticism The Memo: Trump election loss roils right Whoopi Goldberg blasts Republicans not speaking against Trump: 'This is an attempted coup' MORE (R-Neb.) called the drawdowns a “retreat.”

"Headlines about ‘bringing the boys home’ sound good, but that’s not what’s happening,” he said in a statement. “I fear this weak retreat is not grounded in reality and will make the world a more dangerous place."

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyBiden teams to meet with Trump administration agencies Paul Ryan calls for Trump to accept results: 'The election is over' Trump transition order follows chorus of GOP criticism MORE (R-Utah), a frequent foil for Trump on foreign policy, called on the administration to “reconsider and reverse this politically-motivated decision and avoid worsening our national security challenges.”

The ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Jack ReedJack ReedTop Democrat calls Trump's Afghan drawdown 'the right policy decision' as others warn of 'mistake' Overnight Defense: Trump fires Defense chief Mark Esper | Worries grow about rudderless post-election Pentagon | Esper firing hints at broader post-election shake-up | Pelosi says Esper firing shows Trump intent on sowing 'chaos' Esper firing hints at broader post-election shake-up MORE (D-R.I.), said Trump is “choosing the wrong way” to draw down.

“Instead of heeding the advice of national security professionals and working with our allies, President Trump is venting his frustration over losing the election in a manner that is more costly, jeopardizes our military personnel, aids the Taliban and terrorist networks, and emboldens those who want greater conflict with Iran,” Reed said in a statement.

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“Like all Americans, I want our military personnel brought home as soon as possible,” Reed added. “But there is a difference between a strategic, coordinated drawdown and rash, reckless abandonment of the mission and our partners and allies.”

House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerDemocrats face increasing pressure to back smaller COVID-19 stimulus Hoyer on Trump election challenges: 'I think this borders on treason' Capitol's COVID-19 spike could be bad Thanksgiving preview MORE (D-Md.) suggested the drawdowns are intended to “undermine” the incoming Biden administration.

Senate Armed Services Committee Democrats Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenTop Democrat calls Trump's Afghan drawdown 'the right policy decision' as others warn of 'mistake' Overnight Defense: How members of the Armed Services committees fared in Tuesday's elections | Military ballots among those uncounted in too-close-to-call presidential race | Ninth US service member killed by COVID-19 Biden wins New Hampshire MORE (N.H.) and Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineDemocrats face increasing pressure to back smaller COVID-19 stimulus Rick Scott tests positive for coronavirus Grassley tests positive for coronavirus MORE (Va.) also referenced Trump’s loss to Democrat Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump says he'll leave White House if Biden declared winner of Electoral College The Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation US records 2,300 COVID-19 deaths as pandemic rises with holidays MORE in this month's presidential election, with Shaheen saying drawing down is “all the more dangerous” while Trump continues to refuse to concede.

“We need to bring our troops home, but we must do so as part of a strategy that does not jeopardize the safety of Americans in the U.S. and abroad,” Kaine said in his statement. “There was no doubt the final days of this administration would be tumultuous, but the haphazard nature of President Trump’s decision will harm our national security and jeopardize countless American, Afghan, and Iraqi lives.”