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Drawdown of troops from Afghanistan still ongoing despite restrictions in new NDAA

Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller is greeted at Resolute Support Headquarters in Kabul by its commander, Army Gen. Scott Miller, on Dec. 22, 2020. Miller visited Afghanistan to discuss the ongoing support for the country's security as well as learn more about the drawdown efforts of troops.

CAITLIN M. KENNEY/STARS AND STRIPES

By CAITLIN M. KENNEY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 11, 2021

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon still expects to reduce the number of troops in Afghanistan to 2,500 by Friday despite the new defense law that prohibits funding that would allow personnel levels in the country to dip below 4,000, according to a defense statement Monday.

The fiscal year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act passed Jan. 1 states no Defense Department funds from fiscal years 2020 or 2021 can be used to drawdown U.S. troops in Afghanistan below 4,000 or 2,000 until the defense secretary submits a report to Congress that assesses what effect the reduction in forces would have on areas including risk to U.S. personnel and the ongoing counterterrorism mission.

On Nov. 17, acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller announced plans to reduce U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq by Jan. 15, five days before President-elect Joe Biden is sworn into office. The new administration would have 2,500 troops in Afghanistan and 2,500 in Iraq, while the situation in both countries remains precarious.

Pentagon officials said they are evaluating the new law’s impact on the ongoing drawdown in Afghanistan and the Defense Department will “fulfill regulatory provisions set forth in Section 1215” of the 2021 NDAA.

“Currently, no new orders have been issued which impact the progression of the conditions-based drawdown expected to reach 2,500 by Jan. 15, 2021,” Army Maj. Rob Lodewick, a Pentagon spokesman, said Monday in a statement.

The NDAA also states the president can waive the funding limitation on troop reduction totals if he submits to Congress a “written determination that the waiver is important to the national security interests of the United States, and a detailed explanation of how the waiver furthers those interests.”

Pentagon officials did not say whether President Donald Trump was seeking such a waiver this week.

There are about 3,000 service members in Afghanistan now, according to a defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the drawdown.

kenney.caitlin@stripes.com
Twitter: @caitlinmkenney