The United States will reduce its troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan to 2,500 personnel members per country by January 15, acting Defence Secretary Christopher Miller said on Tuesday.
National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien separately said he hoped the US could completely wind down by May – though the Trump administration will no longer be in power by then and it remains to be seen what president-elect Joe Biden will do.
Those troops remaining will defend US diplomats and other agencies, O’Brien said outside the White House.
US media outlets have reported that the country currently has about 4,500 troops in Afghanistan and 3,000 in Iraq.
The US has been in Afghanistan since 2001, when it invaded after the September 11 attacks. In 2003, the US occupied Iraq and overthrew dictator Saddam Hussein.
Miller, speaking from the Pentagon, said the US drawdown was seeking to end “generational war,” a nod to the length of the foreign conflicts.
The secretary said he has spoken with US allies, including in NATO, and with the Afghan government.
Both Miller and O’Brien declined to take questions from the press.
US President Donald Trump campaigned on ending foreign entanglements and the so-called “endless wars.”
However, with his term in office ending in January, he has so far done little to really end the major efforts overseas, while actually increasing operations in the Gulf, as part of an effort to counter Iran.
Even with his latest moves, the president will leave office without bringing home the last soldier from any foreign war.
Some of Trump’s key Republican allies in Congress voiced concerns this week about sudden troop reductions abroad, though they have generally refrained from an overt public dispute with the president.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters on Capitol Hill that “a precipitous drawdown in either Afghanistan or Iraq is a mistake.”
He cautioned against “earth-shaking changes” in the US defence posture abroad, but did not directly criticize Trump or quantify what would constitute a drawdown level that would cause him to be concerned.
Adam Kinzinger, a Republican member of Congress, was more outspoken in reacting to the announcement, telling Fox News he was worried Islamist militants, such as the Islamic State, could stage a comeback.
“Seems like it’s more of a focus on the number than the mission,” Kinzinger said, warning that history may judge Trump poorly as having committed an error.
On the campaign trail this year, Trump often mocked his critics who opposed him ending “stupid” wars, and implied those opposed to his policies seek profit in foreign adventures and are so-called globalists.
Trump last week fired Mark Esper, the last defence secretary, apparently amid a number of disputes, including about troop presence overseas.