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US military continuing Afghan troop withdrawal despite new law

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
US President Donald Trump delivers remarks to US troops, with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani standing behind him, during an unannounced visit to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, on November 28, 2019. (Photo by Reuters)

The Pentagon says the US military is pressing ahead with outgoing President Donald Trump’s order to further withdraw American troops from Afghanistan, despite a new law that bans further reductions without verifying that the drawdown was in America’s national interest.

“Currently, no new orders have been issued which impact the progression of the conditions-based drawdown expected to reach 2,500 (troops) by January 15, 2021,” the Department of Defense said on Monday, according to Reuters.

The Pentagon’s move will likely stir outrage among Republican and Democratic lawmakers opposed to further troop cuts and renew concerns about the Trump administration’s disdain for Congress, even in its final days.

“If they are continuing the drawdown, that would be a violation of the law,” Reuters cited a congressional aide, who asked not to be named, as saying.

The US invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 under the pretext of the so-called war on terror, overthrowing a Taliban regime.

Since the US invasion of Afghanistan, Washington has spent more than two trillion dollars waging the war on the impoverished country. Over 2,400 American soldiers and tens of thousands of Afghan civilians have been killed.

The US military’s phased withdrawal from Afghanistan is part of a deal signed between the US and Taliban in February 2020, which apparently aims to end the almost two-decade war in Afghanistan.

Under the deal, the Taliban have agreed to halt their attacks on international forces.

The deal was intended to result in the reduction of bloodshed, but violence continues to take a heavy toll in the country.

A report said last year that Taliban bombings and other assaults had increased by 70 percent after the US-Taliban agreement.

In November last year, the Pentagon said it would reduce the number of US troops in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 by mid-January.

But the Congress earlier this month enacted a defense policy bill that blocks funding for cutting the number of troops in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 until acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller submits to Congress a “comprehensive, interagency assessment of the risks and impacts.”

One defense official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters the US troop level was already close to 3,000.

Another US official said the drawdown was already underway when the legislation went into effect, and it was not something that could be changed “at a drop of a hat.”

According to the report, the law gave Trump emergency waiver power to continue the withdrawal of US forces. But it said that he must explain to the Congress why a waiver is “important” to the national interest.

The congressional aide said the White House had not provided such waiver communication.

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