With the Pentagon expected to reduce troops levels in Afghanistan down to 4,500 by the November elections, and with the still negotiated US-Taliban peace deal facilitating this, on Tuesday a Pentagon official told Congress it can expect American presence there to be completely ended by May 2021.
Acting assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs David Helvey issued the ambitious timetable during a Congressional hearing:
“I’d like to make it clear that [Secretary of Defense Mark Esper] has not issued orders to reduce military personnel below this 4,000 to 5,000 level in Afghanistan, although we are conducting prudent planning to withdraw to zero service members by May 2021 if conditions warrant, per the US-Taliban agreement.”
In August Esper vowed "We are going down to a number less than 5,000 before the end of November," in accord with President Trump's wishes, who has ahead of the election talked up "brining our troops home" in various statements and on Twitter.
Currently there are an estimated close to 9,000 US troops there, after in recent years as many as 14,000 had been deployed in America's longest running war.
Critics have said that Trump's vows and commitment to ending US "forever wars" have oscillated and have only ramped up again ahead of the election, given it's a talking point popular with his base.
Trump recently referenced the Middle East as "the bloodiest sand anywhere in the world" and reiterated that going to war there was the "single worst decision our country ever made."
"We killed hundreds of thousands of people in the Middle East.— Rep. Matt Gaetz (@RepMattGaetz) September 16, 2020
I always say it's the bloodiest sand anywhere in the world, and it didn't have to be that way.
The single worst decision our country ever made was to go into the Middle East." -@realDonaldTrump pic.twitter.com/B8miYZ43w4
Iraq is also to slated for rapid and significant US pullout, however, neighboring Syria has just this past week seen more mechanized infantry units enter amid ongoing tensions with Russian patrols in northern Syria.
Bradley Fighting Vehicles are now patrolling northeast Deir Ezzor region with greater frequency, an escalation in US posture compared to the lighter armored convoys previously seen "protecting the oil" - as Trump has put it.