Defense bill seeks to halt Afghanistan drawdown

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The compromise defense policy bill released Thursday includes language aimed at preventing a withdrawal from Afghanistan amid President Trump’s order to cut U.S. forces there to 2,500 by mid-January.

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would block funding to reduce the number of troops in Afghanistan until the Pentagon, State Department and director of national intelligence assess how a drawdown would affect threats to the United States, among other criteria.

The assessment would be required before troops can drop below the number there when the bill becomes law and again before troops can drop below 2,000.

“The conferees reaffirm that it is in the national security interests of the United States to deny terrorists safe haven in Afghanistan, protect the United States homeland, uphold the United States partnership with the Government of Afghanistan, and protect the hard-fought gains for the rights of women, girls, and other vulnerable populations in Afghanistan,” said the compromise, known as a conference report.

“The administration has a constitutional obligation to provide the Congress and the American people with regular, timely and comprehensive information on the status of security operations and diplomatic efforts in Afghanistan and across the globe,” the conference report added.

In November, Trump ordered the military to cut the number of troops in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 by Jan. 15, days before he is set to leave office.

President-elect Joe Biden has said he would withdraw most troops from Afghanistan, but leave a small contingent of special forces there to conduct counterterrorism missions.

Trump has continued to push forward with drawing down in Afghanistan even as U.S. and military officials have said the Taliban has yet to meet the commitments it agreed to in February.

The U.S.-Taliban 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 has stepped up attacks against Afghan forces, drawing condemnation from U.S. officials.

The initial House-passed version of the NDAA included language similar to what was agreed to in the compromise bill.

The Senate’s version included language warning against a “precipitous” withdrawal in Afghanistan, but did not have a provision matching the House’s requirement for certifications before drawing down in Afghanistan.

The Afghanistan language is among several rebukes of Trump that made it into the bipartisan NDAA.

The bill includes language aimed at constraining Trump’s ability to withdraw thousands of U.S. troops from Germany.

It also includes a requirement for the Pentagon to rename Confederate-named bases and excludes a repeal of a tech liability shield, both areas over which Trump has threatened to veto the bill.

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