Defense budget law forbids U.S. troop withdrawals without submitting a risk assessment of such a move to Congress
The U.S. military has not stopped the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, the Defense Department told Reuters on Monday, despite a law prohibiting further troop reductions without sending Congress an assessment of the risks of such a move.
“There are currently no new orders that would affect the troop drawdown, which is expected to reach 2,500 troops by Jan. 15, 2021,” the statement said.
The Pentagon’s actions are likely to provoke a backlash from Republican and Democratic lawmakers who oppose further troop reductions and will renew concerns about the outgoing administration’s actions.
“If they continue the troop reductions, it would be a violation of the law,” a congressional staffer told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
The White House declined to comment.
Ending the withdrawal could jeopardize the U.S.-backed peace process in Afghanistan because a February 2019 agreement with the Taliban called for a full U.S. withdrawal by May 2021 in exchange for meeting security guarantees.
In November, the Pentagon said it would reduce the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 by mid-January. This month, Congress passed the Defense Budget Act, which prohibits the use of funds allocated for fiscal years 2020 and 2021 to pay for U.S. troop reductions below 4,000 until Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller submits to Congress a “comprehensive, interagency risk and impact assessment.”
It is unclear how many troops have been withdrawn from Afghanistan since the law was passed.
One Defense Department official, who wished to remain anonymous, said the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan is already approaching 3,000.
The law also requires a risk assessment before the number of U.S. troops can be reduced to less than 2,000.
Earlier, there had been calls not to reduce forces amid a surge in violence in Afghanistan and because of the Taliban’s inability to end its cooperation with al-Qaida, as required by the February 2020 agreement.
Another U.S. official said the troop reductions were happening when the law went into effect and are not something that can be changed “in the blink of an eye.”
The official did not rule out that the law would slow troop withdrawals before Trump leaves office Jan. 20, when he is succeeded by Democrat Joe Biden, the winner of the Nov. 3 presidential election.