US military commanders are anticipating that a formal order given by President Donald Trump as soon as this week will begin a further withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and Iraq before Trump leaves office on January 20, according to two US officials on Monday.
The officials said that the Pentagon has issued a notice to commanders known as a "warning order" to begin planning to reduce the number of troops in Afghanistan to 2,500 troops and 2,500 in Iraq by January 15, reported CNN.
Currently, there are approximately 4,500 US troops in Afghanistan and 3,000 troops in Iraq.
On October 7, Trump had tweeted: "We should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas!"
Former Secretary of Defence Mark Esper sent a classified memo earlier this month to the White House asserting that it was the unanimous recommendation of the chain of command that the US not draw down its troop presence in Afghanistan any further until conditions were met, sources informed. The memo is believed to be one of the reasons why Esper was fired by Trump.
According to CNN, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did not criticise Trump directly on Monday while discussing the drawdown plans but warned of the potential ramifications of a rapid withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, saying it would "hurt our allies".
"There's no American who does not wish the war in Afghanistan against terrorists and their enablers had already been conclusively won," he said. "But that does not change the actual choice before us now. A rapid withdrawal of the US forces from Afghanistan now would hurt our allies and delight -- delight -- the people who wish us harm," he said in a speech from the Senate floor.
The decision to pull additional troops out of Iraq comes as the Trump administration has moved to reduce the US military's footprint there in recent months.
Meanwhile, CNN reported that though State Department officials knew it was possible Trump could order an additional troop drawdown in Afghanistan but they did not know that the Pentagon had sent this warning order, two State Department officials said.