Troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan have dropped, acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller announced Jan. 15. There are now 2,500 U.S. service members in Iraq and 2,500 in Afghanistan. It is the lowest number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan since operations started there in 2001.
The reductions were longtime goals of the Trump administration.
The drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq follows the successful Iraqi military campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
"The drawdown of U.S. force levels in Iraq is reflective of the increased capabilities of the Iraqi security forces," Miller said in a written statement. "We have long anticipated that the force level required to support Iraq's fight against ISIS would decrease as Iraq's capability to manage the threat from ISIS improves. Our ability to reduce force levels is evidence of real progress."
The acting secretary stressed the reduction of American force strength does not mean a change in U.S. policy in the country or region. U.S. forces will continue to work with Iraqi security forces and forces from the anti-ISIS coalition to ensure the enduring defeat of the terrorist group.
Iraqi government officials know that ISIS remains a threat, and the presence of U.S. and coalition forces helps build Iraqi forces and deters the reconstitution of the terror network in the country, Miller said.
"We will continue to have a counterterrorism platform in Iraq to support partner forces with air power and intelligence," the acting secretary said. "Most operations in Iraq were already being conducted by our Iraqi partners, enabled by U.S. and Coalition forces. We can continue to provide this support to our Iraqi partners at the reduced U.S. force level."
The number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan has also reached 2,500. At its high point in 2011, there were 98,000 U.S. troops in the country.
"Today, the United States is closer than ever to ending nearly two decades of war and welcoming in an Afghan-owned, Afghan-led peace process to achieve a political settlement and a permanent and comprehensive cease-fire," Miller said.
In August last year, there were 8,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, according to NATO's Resolute Support Mission. Miller said the force of 2,500 will give commanders "what they need to keep America, our people and our interests safe."
The American forces work alongside NATO allies and partners. There are 38 nations that contribute forces — around 10,000 — to the Resolute Support Mission.
Al-Qaida used Afghanistan to plan and train for the attack on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, that killed almost 3,000 people in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania. The Taliban shielded the terror group, and U.S. forces took the fight to the terrorists that threatened the United States.
U.S. forces will continue to execute the counterterrorism mission and the mission to train, advise and assist Afghan security forces, Miller said.
"Continued fulfillment of these two complementary missions seeks to ensure that Afghanistan is never again used to harbor those who seek to bring harm to the United States of America," he said.
The force reduction shows U.S. support for the Afghan peace process that was negotiated with the Taliban.
"Moving forward, while the department continues with planning capable of further reducing U.S. troop levels to zero by May of 2021, any such future drawdowns remain conditions-based," Miller wrote. "All sides must demonstrate their commitment to advancing the peace process. Further, the United States will continue to take any action necessary to ensure protection of our homeland, our citizens and our interests."