The United States will sharply reduce its troops in Afghanistan and Iraq by mid-January, the Pentagon said on Tuesday, according to BBC. Acting Defence Secretary Christopher Miller in a statement said that commanders and advisors agreed with the withdrawal plan, which will cut the number of troops in Afghanistan from more than 4,500 to 2,500, and in Iraq from about 3,000 to 2,500.

In a separate report, Reuters quoted White House National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien as saying that incumbent President Donald Trump hopes that all US troops will return from Afghanistan and Iraq by May.

The plan has been put in place despite arguments from senior military officials in favour of a slower, more methodical pullout to preserve hard-fought gains, according to AP.

However, Miller, in his statement included a word of caution in this regard. “If the forces of terror, instability, division and hate begin a deliberate campaign to disrupt our efforts, we stand ready to apply the capabilities required to thwart them,” he said.

Miller said that the decision fulfils Trump’s pledge to bring forces home when conditions were met that kept the US and its allies safe.

Trump has refused to concede his election loss to President-Elect Joe Biden, who takes office on January 20, just five days after the troop withdrawal process is slated to finish.

Republicans criticise decision

The Trump administration’s decison has not been received well some of his Republican party members.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Texas congressman Mac Thornberry have called the plan “a mistake”, according to the BBC. Thornberry asserted that the Taliban in Afghanistan have “done nothing, met no condition, that would justify this cut”.

Secretary-General of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation Jen Stoltenberg said that “the price for leaving too soon or in an uncoordinated way could be very high”.

According to AP, the withdrawal plan goes against the long-standing advice of Trump’s military leadership, including Marine General Frank McKenzie, the top US commander for the Middle East. McKenzie and others have repeatedly argued that a hasty withdrawal could undercut negotiations to finalise ongoing peace negotiations between the Taliban and representatives of Afghan society, including the Afghan government.