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Trump visits Afghanistan in 2019. Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP vis Getty

Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller announced on Tuesday that the U.S. would draw down its troop levels in both Afghanistan and Iraq to 2,500 by Jan. 15, 2021.

Why it matters: The U.S. currently has roughly 4,500 troops in Afghanistan, so this will be a significant reduction even as it falls short of President Trump's promise to end America's military presence there altogether.

Background: Miller's predecessor, Mark Esper, and other senior Pentagon officials had opposed further troop reductions unless conditions in Afghanistan improved. Trump fired Esper last week, reportedly in part because of his desire to speed up the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Driving the news: Miller took no questions from the press after making the brief announcement.

  • He noted he had discussed the decision with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, both of whom are wary of an expedited U.S. exit.
  • It will be difficult for NATO to maintain its troop presence in Afghanistan — currently around 12,000, per the Washington Post — if U.S. capabilities and infrastructure are no longer in place.
  • Stoltenberg said in a statement on Tuesday that "the price for leaving too soon or in an uncoordinated way could be very high.”

The state of play: Trump signed a deal with the Taliban this February that called for a U.S. troop withdrawal. That retreat was contingent on peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, and on a promise from the Taliban not to allow terror groups like al-Qaeda to use Afghanistan as a base of operations.

  • Those intra-Afghan talks began in September but have made little headway. Violence in Afghanistan has continued and in some cases escalated.

What to watch: Biden has also promised to pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, though he has mentioned the idea of leaving a counterterrorism force behind.

  • Congressional Republicans, including Mitch McConnell, have cautioned Trump not to pull out entirely, arguing that would present a vacuum for terrorist groups to fill.
  • Flashback: Trump's national security team convinced him in 2017 to commit to the fight in Afghanistan and actually increase troop levels, rather than exiting entirely as he'd vowed to do.

Worth noting: There are currently about 3,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, with that number already having been reduced from 5,200 in September.

Go deeper

Updated Nov 19, 2020 - World

Australia finds evidence of war crimes by elite troops in Afghanistan

Chief of the Australian Defense Force General Angus Campbell delivers the findings from the Inspector-General of the Australian Defense Force Afghanistan Inquiry, in Canberra Thursday morning local time. Photo: Mick Tasikas/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Allegations that elite Australian Defense Force troops unlawfully killed 39 civilians or prisoners in Afghanistan are "credible," said ADF chief Gen. Angus Campbell, announcing findings of a long-awaited report Thursday.

Driving the news: The findings came after a four-year inquiry into alleged war crimes and misconduct by Australia's elite special forces. The report finds most of the people killed in 23 incidents were prisoners and that those who died were "non-combatants or no longer combatants."

Updated 27 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Sen. Kelly Loeffler to return to campaign trail after 2nd negative test

Sen. Kelly Loeffler addresses supporters during a rally on Thursday. Photo: Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

Sen. Kelly Loeffler's (R-Ga.) campaign announced Monday that she "looks forward to getting back out on the campaign trail" after testing negative for COVID-19 for a second time, following earlier conflicting results.

Why it matters: Loeffler has been campaigning at events ahead of a Jan. 5 runoff in elections that'll decide which party holds the Senate majority. Vice President Mike Pence was with her on Friday.

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Key government agency says Biden transition can formally begin

General Services Administrator Emily Murphy. Photo: Alex Edelman/CNP/Getty Images

General Services Administrator Emily Murphy said in a letter to President-elect Joe Biden on Monday that she has determined the transition from the Trump administration can formally begin.

Why it matters: Murphy, a Trump appointee, had come under fire for delaying the so-called "ascertainment" and withholding the funds and information needed for the transition to begin while Trump's legal challenges played out.

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