In his final months as president, Donald Trump seems to want to continue with his plans to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan, while stuffing the Pentagon with officials who sympathize with him.
Trump, who sought a second term and refuses to admit defeat to President-elect Joe Biden, declared in his campaign that he was ending “never-ending wars,” and his newly elected Pentagon are enthusiastic supporters of his position.
Biden broadly shares Trump’s desire to end America’s longest war, but he doesn’t have the same political calendar.
Trump’s program has caused alarm in some quarters, especially as there are few signs of progress in talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban insurgents.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said he would express concern about the hasty US withdrawal from both Afghanistan and Iraq when he meets with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday in Paris.
“We don’t think that should happen,” Le Drian, whose country is particularly concerned about terrorism, said in a television interview.
Last Monday, Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper, known for his caution and who opposed the use of troops against protesters in the anti-racist movement in the United States.
– Pessimism about Afghanistan –
The acting Defense Secretary is Christopher Miller, a former special forces lieutenant who took over the reins of the National Counterterrorism Center just three months ago.
In his first message to the troops, released on Saturday, Miller told them that it is “time to go home,” implying that he could accelerate the withdrawal of the US military from Afghanistan and the Middle East.
“This is the critical phase where we transition from our leadership role to a more supportive role,” he said.
In addition, retired Army Colonel Douglas Macgregor, an outspoken advocate for the withdrawal from Afghanistan, was appointed Senior Advisor to the new Defense Secretary.
And Macgregor, whom Trump nominated in July to be ambassador to Germany, had already expressed disappointment that Trump had not completed the withdrawal.
“The moment we leave makes no difference. Everything is going to fall apart,” Macgregor said of Afghanistan a few months ago in an interview with Fox News host Tucker Carlson, whose show Trump is a regular onlooker.
“But the good news is that once we get out, at least we will no longer be subsidizing corruption and we will no longer subsidize Afghanistan as the global engine of heroin production, which is what it became under our watch,” he stressed.
Trump has not given reasons to support the moves in the Pentagon, and some suggest that his administration may simply want to fill out, in the last few months it has, the resumes of people who were loyal to it.
But Republican Senator Rand Paul, critical of foreign military intervention, called Macgregor’s appointment a sign of determination to get troops out of Afghanistan.
“This and other elections for the Pentagon are the way to get the right people who will finally help stop our endless wars,” Paul wrote on Twitter.
– Military concerns –
Trump has said he wants to reduce the number of troops in Afghanistan to 2,500 by early 2021 and has mentioned a full withdrawal by Christmas, but the military leadership has insisted on linking any withdrawal to a decrease in violence on the ground.
Under an agreement signed in February with the Taliban, the United States hoped to exit, under certain conditions, in mid-2021, nearly 20 years after the attacks on September 11, 2001, that triggered the war.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, distanced himself from Trump’s hasty agenda, which he called “speculation.”
Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, was quick to bring the top US military leader to the waist, arguing that Trump’s dates were “the order of the commander-in-chief.”
Although they are careful not to openly criticize the White House’s position, military leaders say there should be no fewer than 4,500 US troops in Afghanistan without evidence that the Taliban are stopping jihadist groups like Al Qaida.
The military also maintains that an orderly withdrawal – involving thousands of soldiers, equipment, heavy weapons and vehicles – cannot be done by January 20 without leaving behind military material that could fall into enemy hands.
Paul dismissed these concerns, arguing that “there is only one commander-in-chief” … Trump.
“When ordering troops out of Afghanistan, the only appropriate response is ‘Yes, sir,'” he stressed.
The Pentagon’s director of policy, the third-largest official, resigned a day after Esper’s firing and was replaced by a staunch Trump supporter, Anthony Tata.
The retired brigadier general is a Fox News commentator known for his tweets against Islam and for calling former President Barack Obama a “terrorist leader”, who as commander-in-chief authorized the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
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