Washington: The US military has not halted a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Department of Defence has said, despite a new law prohibiting further reductions without the Pentagon sending Congress an assessment of the risks.
"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," it said in a statement.
The Pentagon's action will likely anger Republicans and Democrats opposed to further troop withdrawals and renew concerns about the outgoing Trump administration's disdain for Congress, even in its waning days.
"If they are continuing the drawdown, that would be a violation of the law," said a congressional aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The White House declined to comment.
Halting the drawdown could jeopardise the US-backed Afghanistan peace process as a February 2019 agreement with the Taliban calls for a complete US troop withdrawal by May in return for the insurgents fulfilling security guarantees.
In November, the Pentagon said it would reduce the number of US forces in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 by mid-January.
A US special operations forces soldier climbs down from a compound wall in Shewan, a former Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan.Credit:AP
The then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was so alarmed he broke ranks with President Donald Trump – saying that such a move "would be reminiscent of the humiliating American departure from Saigon in 1975".
This month Congress enacted a defence policy bill – overriding a veto by Trump – that bars using funds appropriated for fiscal years 2020 and 2021 to pay for a drawdown below 4,000 troops until acting Secretary of Defence Christopher Miller submits to Congress a "comprehensive, inter-agency assessment of the risks and impacts."
It is unclear how many troops have been moved out of Afghanistan since the law passed.
One defence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there are already only around 3,000 US military personnel in Afghanistan.
The legislation requires a risk assessment before the number of US troops can be reduced below 2,000, but gives Trump emergency waiver power to continue the drawdown.
But it said that he must tell Congress why a waiver is "important" to the national interest and provide a detailed explanation as to why.
The congressional aide said the White House has provided no such waiver communication.
Some US military officials urged Trump not to cut the force amid a surge in violence in Afghanistan and what they said was the Taliban's failure to end cooperation with al Qaeda as required by the February 2020 agreement with the insurgents.
Another US official said the drawdown was already under way when the law went into effect, and it was not something that could be changed "at a drop of a hat."
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