At Trump's order, commanders also cut US troop levels in Iraq to 2,500 from about 3,000 in the same period.(AFP)
At Trump's order, commanders also cut US troop levels in Iraq to 2,500 from about 3,000 in the same period.(AFP)

Pentagon says US has dropped to 2,500 troops in Afghanistan

Senior US commanders are skeptical of the Taliban's stated commitment to peace.
AP, Washington
PUBLISHED ON JAN 15, 2021 08:56 PM IST

The U.S. military has met its goal of reducing the number of troops in Afghanistan to about 2,500 by Friday, a drawdown that may have violated a last-minute congressional prohibition.

The reduction could complicate matters for the incoming Biden administration, which must determine how to handle a Trump administration commitment to the Taliban to remove all U.S. military, intelligence and contractor personnel from Afghanistan by May as a move to spur peace negotiations. Those talks are in an early stage.

Senior U.S. commanders are skeptical of the Taliban's stated commitment to peace, although they have said they can accomplish their mission in Afghanistan with 2,500 troops.

Christopher Miller, in his final days as the acting secretary of defense, announced on Friday the 2,500 troop level, saying it brings the United States “closer than ever to ending nearly two decades of war.” He said the U.S. remains in position to “ensure that Afghanistan is never again used to harbor those who seek to bring harm to the United States of America.”

President Donald Trump, who ordered the reduction in November, when there were about 4,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, aid Thursday that troop levels in Afghanistan had reached a 19-year low, although he did not mention a troop number. Last February his administration struck a deal with the Taliban to reduce American troop levels in phases and to go to zero by May 2021. It is unclear how the incoming Biden administration will proceed.

President-elect Joe Biden, who has advocated keeping a small counterterrorism force in Afghanistan as a way to ensure that extremist groups like al-Qaida are unable to launch attacks on the United States, faces a number of questions on Afghanistan. One is how and whether to proceed with fledgling peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government..

Trump in his brief statement alluded to his longstanding desire to get out of Afghanistan entirely.

“I will always be committed to stopping the endless wars,” he said, referring to U.S. wars that have dragged on in Afghanistan since 2001 and in Iraq for much of the period since 2003.

Although senior military officials had cautioned against speedy troop reductions in Afghanistan, Miller announced on Nov. 17 that he was implementing Trump's order. As a result, military commanders scrambled to pull more than 1,500 troops out of the country in the last few weeks. At Trump's order, commanders also cut U.S. troop levels in Iraq to 2,500 from about 3,000 in the same period. Miller confirmed Friday that the Iraq drawdown had been completed.

The Afghanistan decision was seen by some as unnecessarily complicating the decision-making of the incoming administration. Trump at the time had refused to acknowledge that he had lost the election and would be ceding to Biden on Jan. 20. Some in Congress, including fellow Republicans, opposed Trump's decision.

Under the National Defense Authorization Act passed by Congress two weeks ago, the Pentagon was explicitly forbidden to use money from this year’s or last year’s budget on reducing the number of troops below 4,000 — or below the number that was in the country the day the bill was finalized, which was Jan. 1. Trump vetoed the measure, but both the House and Senate voted to override his veto.

The defense legislation provided two conditions under which the Pentagon could get around the prohibition -- a presidential waiver or a report to Congress assessing the effect of a further drawdown on the U.S. counterterrorism mission in Afghanistan and the risk to U.S. troops there. As of Thursday the Pentagon had met neither of those conditions.

In his statement Friday, Miller made no mention of this statutory prohibition. However, a spokesman, Maj. Robert Lodewick, said Trump signed a waiver of the legislative prohibition, stipulating that the drawdown was important to U.S. national security interests. Earlier in the week, Trump had not yet signed the waiver, meaning it came after the drawdown had been completed.

Miller said Friday the Pentagon is planning for additional troop reductions to zero by May, adding that “any such future drawdowns remain conditions based.”

The legislative prohibition on completing the drawdown put the Pentagon in a bind, coming weeks after it had begun the drawdown.

“Convention dictates that reducing troop levels, associated equipment and adjusting associated force protection requirements across a country-wide combat zone is not something that can be paused overnight without increasing risk to the force and core mission goals,” Lodewick said.

The main reason for concern about a too-quick troop withdrawal is what the Pentagon sees as continued high levels of Taliban violence against the Afghan government. Some U.S. officials have questioned the wisdom of fully withdrawing, in accordance with the February 2020 agreement with the Taliban, if violence remains high.

The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 was aimed at overthrowing the Taliban regime, running al-Qaida out of the country and laying the groundwork for a global “war on terrorism.” It turned into something more ambitious but less well-defined and became far more costly in blood and treasure. During Biden's time as vice president, the U.S. pushed U.S. troop totals in Afghanistan to 100,000 in a failed bid to compel the Taliban to come to the negotiating table. When Trump took office four years ago there were about 8,500 troops in the country, and he raised it to about 13,000 that summer.

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Close
The army claimed it has cleared the mountainous region of terrorists following several operations to eliminate the TTP. In this file picture, a Pakistan's army soldier stands guard on the Line of Control (LoC) at Abdullah Pur village in Bhimber district. (AFP)
The army claimed it has cleared the mountainous region of terrorists following several operations to eliminate the TTP. In this file picture, a Pakistan's army soldier stands guard on the Line of Control (LoC) at Abdullah Pur village in Bhimber district. (AFP)

Taliban commander killed in security force operation in Pak's Waziristan: Report

ANI, Islamabad
PUBLISHED ON FEB 27, 2021 06:41 AM IST
  • Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan's (TTP) Nooristan alias Hasan Baba, a "high-value target", was killed in an exchange of fire during an operation at a terrorist hideout on Sharwangi, Tiarza in South Waziristan.
Close
Ecuador's Health Minister Juan Carlos Zevallos addresses the media before healthcare workers administer doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine on their colleagues, in Guayaquil, Ecuador January 21, 2021. Picture taken January 21, 2021. REUTERS/Santiago Arcos(REUTERS)
Ecuador's Health Minister Juan Carlos Zevallos addresses the media before healthcare workers administer doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine on their colleagues, in Guayaquil, Ecuador January 21, 2021. Picture taken January 21, 2021. REUTERS/Santiago Arcos(REUTERS)

Latin America’s Covid vaccine scandal claims third health minister

Posted by Harshit Sabarwal | Bloomberg
PUBLISHED ON FEB 27, 2021 06:20 AM IST
President Lenin Moreno, whose term ends May 24, posted the minister’s resignation letter on Twitter. Zevallos’ departure was quickened after he sent letters to university presidents inviting them to skip the line and after prosecutors launched an investigation into his mother’s vaccination in January.
Close
Health workers wait for a discharged Covid-19 patient before his departure from the Luziania field hospital, a suburb of Brasilia, Brazil, (AP)
Health workers wait for a discharged Covid-19 patient before his departure from the Luziania field hospital, a suburb of Brasilia, Brazil, (AP)

Brasilia goes into lockdown as Brazil reels from Covid-19 surge

Reuters, Brasilia
PUBLISHED ON FEB 27, 2021 06:11 AM IST
The drastic step came as right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly downplayed the gravity of the pandemic that has killed 250,000 Brazilians, renewed his attacks on state governors for destroying jobs with lockdowns.
Close
“In all of these meetings I spoke with my counterparts in Mexico and Canada about the pandemic,” Blinken said.(AFP)
“In all of these meetings I spoke with my counterparts in Mexico and Canada about the pandemic,” Blinken said.(AFP)

Blinken pledges cooperation in ‘virtual trips’ to Mexico, Canada

Bloomberg
PUBLISHED ON FEB 27, 2021 06:11 AM IST
The Friday trip -- really just a series of video calls with his Canadian and Mexican counterparts, as well as U.S. embassy staff -- saw Secretary of State Antony Blinken address issues like combating the coronavirus pandemic, promoting democratic values and discussing climate change.
Close
Parents of kidnapped students of Government Girls Junior Secondary School wait for information about family members following an attack by gunmen in Jangebe, Nigeria.(AP)
Parents of kidnapped students of Government Girls Junior Secondary School wait for information about family members following an attack by gunmen in Jangebe, Nigeria.(AP)

UN calls for immediate release of 317 girls abducted from school in Nigeria

ANI
PUBLISHED ON FEB 27, 2021 05:58 AM IST
Peter Hawkins, a representative of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) in the country, urged the assailants to let the teenagers go immediately, Xinhua reported.
Close
Grounded Boeing 737 MAX aircraft are seen parked in an aerial photo at Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington, US in this file photo from 2019. (REUTERS)
Grounded Boeing 737 MAX aircraft are seen parked in an aerial photo at Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington, US in this file photo from 2019. (REUTERS)

Boeing CEO asked to testify in Ethiopian 737 MAX crash litigation

Reuters
PUBLISHED ON FEB 27, 2021 05:41 AM IST
A Senate report in December detailed lapses in aviation safety oversight and failed leadership in the FAA. It found that FAA leaders obstructed that report as well as a DOT watchdog review of the regulator's oversight, the results of which were released on Wednesday.
Close
"You can't act with impunity. Be careful," Biden told reporters while traveling to survey the damage from a severe winter storm in Texas.(Reuters file photo)
"You can't act with impunity. Be careful," Biden told reporters while traveling to survey the damage from a severe winter storm in Texas.(Reuters file photo)

Iran 'can't act with impunity,' Biden says after US air strike

Posted by Harshit Sabarwal | Reuters
UPDATED ON FEB 27, 2021 04:12 AM IST
The United States carried out air strikes authorized by Biden against facilities belonging to Iranian-backed militia in eastern Syria on Thursday, in response to rocket attacks against US targets in Iraq.
Close
Asked about the trajectory of the relationship between the US and Pakistan under President Joe Biden, Price said Pakistan has an “important role to play” in bringing peace to Afghanistan.(HT_PRINT)
Asked about the trajectory of the relationship between the US and Pakistan under President Joe Biden, Price said Pakistan has an “important role to play” in bringing peace to Afghanistan.(HT_PRINT)

United States welcomes Indo-Pak ceasefire pact

By Yashwant Raj, Washington
PUBLISHED ON FEB 27, 2021 02:46 AM IST
The United States welcomed the India-Pakistan joint statement – released on Thursday — committing to a ceasefire along the LoC with Ned Price, spokesperson of the state department, saying: “We encourage continued efforts to improve communication between the two sides and to reduce tensions and violence along the Line of Control.”
Close
Saudi officials have said Khashoggi’s killing was the work of rogue Saudi security and intelligence officials.(AFP Photo)
Saudi officials have said Khashoggi’s killing was the work of rogue Saudi security and intelligence officials.(AFP Photo)

US implicates Saudi crown prince in journalist Jamal Khashoggi's killing

Posted by Harshit Sabarwal | AP
PUBLISHED ON FEB 27, 2021 12:11 AM IST
The central conclusion of the report was widely expected given that intelligence officials were said to have reached it soon after the brutal Oct. 2, 2018, murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s authoritarian consolidation of power.
Close
The Feb. 1 military takeover in Myanmar shocked the international community and reversed years of slow progress toward democracy.(REUTERS)
The Feb. 1 military takeover in Myanmar shocked the international community and reversed years of slow progress toward democracy.(REUTERS)

Myanmar's UN envoy dramatically opposes coup in his country

Posted by Harshit Sabarwal | AP
PUBLISHED ON FEB 26, 2021 11:48 PM IST
Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun urged all countries to issue public statements strongly condemning the military coup and refuse to recognize the military regime and ask its leaders to respect the free and fair elections in November won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party.
Close
REGN-COV2 is a combination of casirivimab and imdevimab, two monoclonal antibodies which is given to a patient via a drip, the EMA said.(via AP)
REGN-COV2 is a combination of casirivimab and imdevimab, two monoclonal antibodies which is given to a patient via a drip, the EMA said.(via AP)

EU medicines regulator approves Regeneron Covid-19 therapy

Posted by Harshit Sabarwal | AFP
PUBLISHED ON FEB 26, 2021 11:38 PM IST
Regeneron's synthetic antibody treatment was used to treat former US President Donald Trump after he contracted coronavirus last year.
Close
In a 44,000-person trial, the vaccine overall was 66% effective at preventing moderate-to-severe cases of Covid-19 compared with a placebo.(AP)
In a 44,000-person trial, the vaccine overall was 66% effective at preventing moderate-to-severe cases of Covid-19 compared with a placebo.(AP)

FDA advisory panel to review J&J Covid-19 vaccine with thumbs up expected

Reuters
PUBLISHED ON FEB 26, 2021 11:09 PM IST
After it receives the recommendation, the FDA is likely to authorize the vaccine for emergency use within a day or so, making it the third available in the United States, and the only one that requires just one shot.
Close
Bank of America said in December it would extend pandemic benefits for employees who need child- or adult-care services.(REUTERS)
Bank of America said in December it would extend pandemic benefits for employees who need child- or adult-care services.(REUTERS)

Bank of America gives paid time off for US staff to get Covid-19 vaccines

Posted by Kunal Gaurav | Bloomberg
PUBLISHED ON FEB 26, 2021 10:50 PM IST
Staff at Bank of America will have the option to use two half days, for up to four hours each, for vaccination appointments this year.
Close
The administration also will encourage businesses to advocate for the benefits of masks and vaccines. (Representative Image)(Samir Jana/HT File)
The administration also will encourage businesses to advocate for the benefits of masks and vaccines. (Representative Image)(Samir Jana/HT File)

Biden administration to promote vaccination with businesses

Bloomberg
UPDATED ON FEB 26, 2021 10:46 PM IST
The White House will partner with the US Chamber of Commerce; leaders of the Black, Latino and Asian business community; the Business Roundtable and the National Association of Manufacturers on the efforts, White House adviser Andy Slavitt announced in a briefing.
Close
The conversation between the two strategic partners will be overshadowed by the expected release of US intelligence findings.(AP)
The conversation between the two strategic partners will be overshadowed by the expected release of US intelligence findings.(AP)

Biden team looking to stop Saudi arms deals that help it attack others

Posted by Kunal Gaurav | Reuters, Washington
PUBLISHED ON FEB 26, 2021 10:45 PM IST
The Biden administration is recalibrating its relationship with Saudi Arabia, a country with which it has severe human rights concerns.
Close
SHARE
Story Saved
OPEN APP