US troop presence heading down to 2,500 in Iraq and Afghanistan

The global war on terrorism is hitting a drawdown milestone on Jan. 15, when U.S. troop levels hit 2,500 each in Iraq and Afghanistan, after nearly two decades of war in both countries.

Though it did not set another milestone for Iraq, the Trump administration has said it hopes to have all troops out of Afghanistan by May. That will ultimately be up to President-elect Joe Biden, who on the 2020 campaign trail pledged to “end the forever wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East.”

“With the blessings of providence in the coming year, we will finish this generational war and bring our men and women home,” Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller said during a Nov. 17 announcement. “We will protect our children from the heavy burden and toll of perpetual war. And we will honor the sacrifices made in service to peace and stability in Afghanistan, Iraq and around the world and celebrate all those who helped us secure freedom over oppression.”

Miller, who replaced fired former Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Nov. 9, will oversee that draw down until he leaves office on Jan. 20. Pending Senate confirmation, he will be replaced by retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, who oversaw the 2011 withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq.

Soldiers train Afghan security forces in Kandahar. The announced draw down to 2,500 troops in Afghanistan would effectively end that mission.(Staff Sgt. Neysa Canfield/Army)

Though defense officials initially refused to comment on details of the drawdown, lawmakers have since shared that the plan is to reduce the train-advise-assist mission of local forces and focus on counterterrorism operations, notably against Islamic State affiliates in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

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