US President Donald Trump will sharply reduce the number of US forces in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 before he leaves office, the Pentagon has announced.
The Pentagon also outlined a modest withdrawal of US forces in Iraq that will reduce troop levels from 3,000 to 2,500.
Acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller said about 2,000 troops would be pulled out of Afghanistan by January 15 and 500 more would come back from Iraq, leaving 2,500 in each country.
The moves reflect Trump’s policy “to bring the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to a successful and responsible conclusion and to bring our brave service members home”, Miller said.
However, the plans – which were first reported on Monday – stopped short of the complete withdrawal Trump had threatened to carry out by Christmas.
The new plan will accelerate troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan in Trump’s final days in office, despite arguments from senior military officials in favour of a slower, more methodical pullout.
Trump has refused to concede his election loss to Democrat Joe Biden, who takes office January 20, just five days after the troop withdrawals are slated to finish.
Critics said the Afghan withdrawal will undermine fragile security in the nation and hurt the continuing peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban fighters.
Shortly after Miller’s announcement, the top Republican in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, warned against any major changes in US defence or foreign policy in the next couple of months – including significant troop reductions in Afghanistan and Iraq.