Trump Is Said to Be Preparing to Withdraw Troops From Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia

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Trump Is Said to Be Preparing to Withdraw Troops From Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia

WASHINGTON — President Trump is expected to order the U.S. military to withdraw thousands of troops from Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia by the time he leaves office in January, using the end of his time in power to significantly pull back American forces from far-flung conflicts around the world.

Under a draft order circulating at the Pentagon on Monday, the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan would be halved from the current deployment of 4,500 troops, officials said.

In Iraq, the Pentagon would trim force levels slightly below the 3,000 troops that commanders had previously announced. And in Somalia, virtually all of the more than 700 troops conducting training and counterterrorism missions would leave.

Taken together, the cuts reflect Mr. Trump’s longstanding desire to stop shouldering the cost of long-running military engagements against Islamist insurgencies in failed and fragile countries in Africa and the Middle East, a grinding mission that has spread since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

But the president’s aspirations have long run into resistance, as his own national security officials argued that abandonment of such troubled countries could have catastrophic consequences — such as when the United States pulled out of Iraq at the end of 2011, leaving a vacuum that fostered the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Mr. Trump has also repeatedly pushed to withdraw from Syria, but several hundred U.S. troops remain stationed there, partly to protect coveted oil fields held by American-backed Syrian Kurdish allies from being seized by the government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. The current deliberations over withdrawals would not affect those in Syria, officials said.

The plan under discussion to pull out of Somalia is said to not apply to U.S. forces stationed in nearby Kenya and Djibouti, where American drones that carry out airstrikes in Somalia are based, according to officials familiar with the internal deliberations who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The Daily: The Rise, Fall and Resurrection of the Taliban

A Times correspondent reflects on what he’s learned from growing up with and reporting on the extremists in Afghanistan for some 25 years.

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transcript

The Daily: The Rise, Fall and Resurrection of the Taliban

Hosted by Michael Barbaro; produced by Stella Tan, Luke Vander Ploeg, Rachelle Bonja, Lynsea Garrison and Daniel Guillemette; and edited by Dave Shaw and Mike Benoist

A Times correspondent reflects on what he’s learned from growing up with and reporting on the extremists in Afghanistan for some 25 years.

michael barbaro

From The New York Times, I’m Michael Barbaro. This is The Daily.

[music]

In his final days as president, Donald Trump is promising to withdraw as many American troops as possible from Afghanistan, all but guaranteeing a major place for the Taliban in the country’s future. Today, as that new chapter begins in Afghanistan, my colleague Mujib Mashal on what he’s learned from living with and reporting on the Taliban for the past 25 years.

It’s Wednesday, November 18.

Mujib, tell me about some of your earliest memories of growing up in Afghanistan.

mujib mashal

I think some of my earliest memories is my grandpa visiting our home in Kabul often. He lived in a different part of the city. And he had a cane. He was a tall man, and he loved walking. Every time he would visit our home, and he would knock on the door with his cane, it would be a moment of joy for us. We would run to the door. But this was a period where the daily reality of this city was just the sound and the destruction of rockets. And in the house we lived in, we had a small garden where my dad would grow vegetables when he would come back for work. One of those rockets landed as he was watering the flowers and vegetables in the backyard.

michael barbaro

Wow.

mujib mashal

And we had this apple tree right in the middle of the backyard. And we were lucky because the rocket cut through that apple tree. And it landed, and it went through the soft dirt, and it didn’t explode. But I remember very clearly for years after that, my dad would pour water into that spot where the shell had gone in, thinking it would rust up the shell, and it won’t explode. So it almost became part of his backyard garden.

michael barbaro

And what was going on in the country that explained these terrifying experiences that are happening in your backyard? Who was behind this?

mujib mashal

So this was the early 1990s. There’s a power vacuum. The Soviet Union that had invaded Afghanistan has just pulled out, and all these guerrilla factions that were funded by the C.I.A. as part of this larger Cold War rivalry to fight the Soviets, are now fighting each other over the power vacuum. So Kabul, the capital city, is divided into little fiefdoms by these guerrilla factions, and they’re firing rockets on each other. But as a kid, we didn’t know of these bigger dynamics. What I was experiencing was largely just the sound and the horror of the rockets. And the little excitement that we had during the day was a couple hours in the evening we’d get electricity. Power would come up, and then people would switch on their television. And when you’d switch on the television, there would be a recitation of the Koran. And there would be the national anthem.

And then they would go into a children’s program. Most days than not, it was a show about— I think it was a rabbit. And the rabbit was chasing a carrot. And I don’t really remember the plot of the story. But I just remember in the daily routine, in all the chaos, this was a moment of laughter, and color, and normalcy, right?

michael barbaro

Mm-hmm.

mujib mashal

But that didn’t last long.

I think I was seven or eight when it ended.

michael barbaro

And why was that? What had happened?

mujib mashal

It was 1996, and one of the guerrilla groups, the Taliban, moved into the capital. They were a force that did not believe in televisions, and music, and in any visuals. And quickly any idea of television and things like that was gone.

michael barbaro

They literally turned it off.

mujib mashal

They turned it off.

michael barbaro

And who were the Taliban to you? What did you understand about them in this moment?

mujib mashal

So we felt the changes immediately.

[music]

One thing I remember was, there was a constant fear of being raided if you had a television or there was music heard from your home. So you either destroyed the television that you had, burned the photo albums, or you found ways to bury them or to hide them. And my dad, I remember, he had a collection of cassettes. He had favorite singers that he would listen to. And he took his cassettes, he took the television, he took the photo albums up the stairs to this little attic we had, and he put it all there. And then at the end of the stairs, he sealed the attic with a wall. And it was so obvious. It wasn’t a great disguise, really. But that is the best he could think of.

And then in school I remember the subjects all of a sudden changed. Certain subjects were completely dropped. Like geography was dropped. There was multiple religious subjects that was added. And some of the teachers for those religious subjects were clearly officials of the Taliban government, because they would arrive in cars. Cars were very rare back then. And then around noon, everybody would be filed into this auditorium, where the noon prayer would happen. And one young-ish teacher, he would lead the prayers. And the prayer is supposed to be something focused, where you’re not looking at anyone. But as you would bend over, as you do in a Muslim prayer, I remember we would all be focused on his gun. His gun would be strapped to his side.

The other thing was my sister suddenly not being able to go to school. I have one sister, and she was older than me. And I think she was in sixth grade. And she was top of her class all the six years. So she continued studying at home, initially thinking this was a temporary thing, right? What system, what government in their right mind would completely stop girls from going to school? But quickly the sense dawned on her that she may never get a chance to go back to school.

michael barbaro

And how do you remember people talking about these changes? People like your parents, your aunts or uncles the adults in your life?

mujib mashal

Immediately if we go back to that context of a capital city in anarchy, the daily reality being rockets, being looting, where there are multiple forces inside the city, in that context, initially the Taliban was this force that brought an end to the anarchy, an end to the rockets, that people didn’t fear losing their lives any moment. Then all of a sudden, at night you could leave your gates open, and nobody dared come into your home to steal anything, that all of a sudden you felt like there was order in the city. But they brought all of that at a enormous cost— through terror and fear. On the streets, you would see the Taliban around prayer time, where they would forcibly lash people to the mosques. If somebody was caught stealing, their hand was chopped in front of a packed stadium at the halftime of a soccer game. You were at their mercy. They set the tone for how you lived your life.

michael barbaro

So how long does this period of profound trade-offs that you just walked us through, how long does that last?

mujib mashal

At the time, the feeling was, this was permanent. They had 95% of the country under their control. But the end of it came really unexpectedly. Osama bin Laden, who had orchestrated the attacks of September 11, 2001, was living in Afghanistan. He was a guest of the Taliban.

michael barbaro

Right.

mujib mashal

And once Bin Laden and al-Qaeda carried out those attacks in New York, the U.S. invaded, and the bombing of the city started it again.

michael barbaro

And what was that time like for you, the time when the United States arrives in Afghanistan and begins this enormous invasion?

[music]
mujib mashal

I remember when the air strikes started, school still continued. And as a kid even, I knew very well that from the sky above, the planes will not be able to tell a gathering of the Taliban and a gathering of students wearing turbans. So I just distinctly remember the turban was part of the school uniform, but I would have it tucked under my arm until that last minute of entering the classroom where I really had to wear it. And then in the evenings, I remember in the darkness of the city, we could get on the roof to try to sort of estimate what part of the city was hit, because you could see the fire, to know whether we knew a relative or a family member that lived close to that area, whether we should worry or not.

michael barbaro

Wow.

mujib mashal

In school, I remember there’s nervousness in the same teachers and principals we’re seeing. All of a sudden, those meetings at the auditorium, there’ll be chants of “death to America.” And then there was talk of how with faith and with Islam, we’re going to defeat this global military might.

But the resistance didn’t last long. It only took a couple of weeks for the Taliban to realize that this air force in particular was nothing like they had seen before. They started running pretty quickly. Then one morning we woke up, and they were gone. They just packed up and left the city. I remember for a couple of days my dad didn’t really believe it. So he didn’t tear down the wall to bring out his cassettes, to bring out the Television but then we finally convinced him. I just remember it was us kids begging him. It’s gone, it’s done. We should bring out that television. And our idea was that once you bring out the television, you plug it into electricity, and you turn it on, you’ll go back to the same shows. [CHUCKLING]

michael barbaro

So just as quickly as the Taliban arrives and is a total fact of life, it is suddenly just gone?

mujib mashal

Yes. It was established pretty quickly on the streets when the music came back, and when the barber shops were flooded, just people getting shaves, and the beards being gone.

All of a sudden, the world’s attention focuses on this deprived war-torn country. Dozens of nations come in. They open up their Embassies they open up their purses. Government is inclusive. Minorities come into the government. Women are ministers schools open up. It was a period of opportunities. And for me personally in 2003, I got a scholarship to go study in Massachusetts, in a high school. And when I was leaving, the energy on the ground at that time was, this is the new beginning for Afghanistan. This is a country on the road for democratic, fair, just governance and prosperity. And the Taliban. they don’t have a place in that future.

michael barbaro

We’ll be right back.

Mujib, we know that, of course, the Taliban does not go away. It starts to reemerge. And I wonder how you experienced that during your time in the United States.

mujib mashal

The years I was a student the United States, I would go back home to my family over the summers. And in the first few years, the Taliban occasionally would come up in the news. They would launch a small attack somewhere in a faraway district. It wasn’t really part of the central conversation. But as the years passed, I felt that the group was growing stronger. They went to safe havens across the border in Pakistan. They regrouped, and they came back. So by 2012, when I returned as a reporter to Kabul, it was very, very clear that they were challenging the existence of this new, democratic system that the Americans were bankrolling.

As a reporter on the ground, we felt them in the frequency of the suicide attacks we covered. A couple times a week, more than that, there will be bombings across the city, really brutal bombings. And they would just grow in size and in carnage.

One time, they packed a sewage truck with explosives, and they detonated it pretty close to our office. I was driving to work that morning. And when I arrived, the desk where I work at had been flung, and the windows were smashed. And it just kept growing closer and closer to home, where the feeling as a resident of the city, as a reporter, was that if I would be stuck in a traffic knot and there would be a truck in front of me, the fear— my heartbeat would go up, because anything, any moment could explode in front of your eyes. And there was nothing you could do about it. If you came out of your home, you were on the front line.

[music]
michael barbaro

So at this point, how are you, adult reporter, thinking about the Taliban? Are they enemies of Afghanistan? Are they in some sense rulers thrown from power, trying to claw their way back, as all powers do try to do? Are they terrorists to you? How are you categorizing them in your head?

mujib mashal

I’m seeing them as all those things. Because as a reporter, I know there is a back story to the carnage. There is an ideology to it. There is a story to it, right? The trouble is that their leaders are hiding in safe havens in Pakistan. They’re avoiding interviews. And their fighters, the only time we see them usually is their dead bodies. So we don’t have as much access to their thinking, but that started changing in 2018.

michael barbaro

And why is that? Remind us what happens in 2018?

mujib mashal

So by 2018, the Taliban have grown into a force to be reckoned with. They have presence in large parts of the country, and the loss of daily life is creating this sense of hopelessness and despair, and the war is a bloody stalemate. And the U.S. comes to a realization that despite growing an Afghan security force, despite supporting them with airstrikes, it can’t really defeat the Taliban militarily. The Taliban are just stubborn. So the U.S. decides to open direct talks with the Taliban in Doha. And that’s an opening for me to travel to Doha and to start meeting some of these shadowy figures that had been impossible for us to access for so long, to get a sense of how they feel about this conflict.

michael barbaro

Mujib, as you covered these negotiations, I wonder what was going through your head. Because these are people who took a lot from you and everyone around you. And so I know as a journalist, you’re there to cover them in their official capacity, but I wonder what was going through your heart as you’re sitting across from them, talking to them. Is there a temptation to confront them?

mujib mashal

Of course. There’s two things. One is, yes, here I am for the first time, sitting across from people in whose name a lot of carnage happened, that these big bombings happened, that have actually killed friends, colleagues that I know. So, yes, the anger is there. But as a reporter covering a war with multiple, brutal sides, I’ve learned to try to keep some of those emotions in check. And what also helped was that these were characters whose names I knew. And I remember one afternoon in Doha, I was walking around the hotel where the negotiations were happening, and this one middle-aged talib wearing his turban was just standing at the edge of the shoreline, looking at the water in Doha. And I walked up to him and struck a conversation. And as he was telling me about how the negotiations were going, he paused. And then he said, well, I won’t be in trouble, because you probably don’t know who I am, anyways. And I was like, actually, sir, I think I know your name. And he said, who am I? And when I mentioned what ministry he led, he just started laughing, and he just smacked my knee. And he said, oh, you’re a clever one. And then he said, how do you know? I was like, well, when I was a kid, I lived under your government. And on the national independence day, we would march in the stadium, and you would be in the V.I.P. area watching our parade. But this was 20 years later now. And as curious as I was about how they’re fighting this war, he starts asking me questions. He’s just bombarding me with a lot of questions about how Afghanistan has changed. And then he started asking me some questions about Taliban fighters around Kabul. And some of the ways he was asking me questions made me wonder how well he knew those fighters who were fighting in his name. And I realized really quickly that he’s disconnected from a reality that has developed over the 20 years when he was hiding in safe havens in Pakistan. And to me, that was very, very telling. Because the Taliban leaders who were sitting in Doha, who were negotiating a peace deal, were actually elderly graybeards, who had been out of the battlefield for 20 years or so. They were people who had experienced the chaos after the Soviet withdrawal. And they came with a bit of pragmatism, realizing that there was a huge burden of responsibility on their shoulders to avoid Afghanistan falling into another power vacuum again. But the main leverage they have is the fighting force on the ground. So this doubt that I had of how well he knows, how well he is aware of the evolution of that force made it clearly important to me that I need to meet face-to-face with this younger generation of Taliban fighters, and understand the fighters, and the views, and the expectations of the fighter, who are the real muscle. At the end of the day, it is the fighters on the ground that matter in terms of whether this war ends peacefully or whether this country breaks into another civil war.

michael barbaro

So how do you actually go about meeting these fighters?

mujib mashal

So in February, the U.S. and the Taliban finally signed their deal. And that began the American troop withdrawal, and it mostly stopped the American airstrikes. And the Taliban reduced its attacks to open direct negotiations with the Afghan government over power-sharing, over a future government. And that was an opportunity for me to convince one of the Taliban commanders in the East to take us in and let us spend some time with his fighters.

mujib mashal

So we’re driving towards Alingar, where we’re supposed to meet these Taliban fighters. The process has been a little difficult. We waited for several weeks, actually months to get access.

mujib mashal

So just photographer, Jim Holbrook, and I—

mujib mashal

If there ever was a window to do this, Jim, now is it.

jim holbrook

I know.

mujib mashal

Because of the airstrikes.

mujib mashal

And our reporter in the East, Zabihullah, we get in the car, and we drive to Laghman Province, where we’re meeting these fighters.

mujib mashal

There is a last checkpost right before a bridge where we cross into a Taliban area.

mujib mashal

And as the government control ends—

mujib mashal

How beautiful are the mountains in the background, man?

jim holbrook

Yeah.

mujib mashal

Wow.

mujib mashal

—as we drive deeper into the Taliban territory—

mujib mashal

In their turbans, their weapons out in the open.

mujib mashal

—we’re met in the middle of a road by their red unit, which is their most elite force. And they arrive on the back of motorcycles. Their faces are covered. They’re all young fighters. And they stop us in the road. We know they’ve come to welcome us. And we get out of the car to say hello. And I’m nervous. I’m super nervous. It’s one thing to sit down in a posh hotel across from the graybearded political leaders. It’s something else to sit down with their killers, with the most ruthless of their fighters. And what’s going through my mind is, how do I make small talk, to break the ice?

I can sense myself that I’m talking fast and I’m nervous. And I say hello to all of them. And as soon as they see Jim, that he’s a foreigner— [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] And that he speaks a little bit of the local language, [LAUGHTER] they start cracking up, and they start opening up. They lead us to their commander that we’re meeting, this guy named Moli Ghais, and we meet him in the middle of the bazaar. He comes out of this flour mill, and he dusts his clothes. Then he apologizes, and he says, I’m sorry. I was busy milling some flour. And he tells us that’s his day job. They bring some oranges and some apples, and we sit under this shade of a mulberry tree for what is a really friendly, normal conversation.

michael barbaro

And what does he tell you? What did you learn from him? [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

mujib mashal

I ask this commander, and I said, well, the Americans are leaving. You’ve justified your violence by saying, we’re fighting the foreign invaders. How do you justify killing fellow Afghan fighters who pray to the same God, who read the same Koran? [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] He was an eloquent man, and he said, let me tell you clearly— our fight is not against the flesh and bones of the foreigners, or the flesh and bones of the Afghans. [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

He said, our fight is about the system. [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] And he said, yes, the Americans might be leaving, but how can we stop fighting if those in government are insisting on keeping the same corrupt government? [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] They see their fight as restoring their Islamic way of government.

michael barbaro

These fighters on the ground want to resume the life of your childhood, that level of severe Taliban government.

mujib mashal

Exactly. They want a strict interpretation of Taliban government that they were too young to have experienced. They weren’t old enough to have memories of what that government based on a rigid interpretation of Islam looked like. They didn’t know that the Taliban government in the ‘90s, it was poverty and starvation, and people felt Suffocated So the disconnect here was that the younger fighters are excited about a victory to form a kind of government that in their mind hasn’t been tried before. But in fact, it was tried, as the graybearded leaders of them who are more pragmatic at the top of the Taliban, they know that that was difficult to sustain.

One of our last stops during this trip was, we went to the cemetery where—

mujib mashal

All the white ones you know, Jim.

mujib mashal

It was dotted with these graves of Taliban fighters with white flags on top of them. And I was staring at this vast cemetery. [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

And the commander, Ghais, was telling me that every unit operating in that province had lost half of its men.

michael barbaro

Wow.

mujib mashal

So there’s a sense of, we’ve paid a big price also for ideology, and for wanting the return of the Taliban rule, so we deserve it. We’re entitled to it.

As we were saying goodbye to leave the province, again, there was this little bit of really innocent curiosity on the part of the commander. [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] And he cornered me and he said, well, you’ve come from Doha. You were covering the negotiations. [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

What do you think? Is their hope for this process? And the tone in which he was asking was a suggestion of how this fight has drained them also.

So it was an interesting mix of resolve, entitlement, victory, and also pure exhaustion, not only in these visuals of the cemetery around them packed with people who are his comrades killed, but also in how he asked me that question, whether this process to seek a peaceful end to this war was going to lead to anything. [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

michael barbaro

So after visiting these negotiations, after talking to the Taliban leadership and then meeting with these fighters on the front lines, I wonder what you’re thinking might happen now to Afghanistan in this moment. Do you have hope for a peaceful resolution, for a compromise?

mujib mashal

On the one hand, you see elements that could help a peaceful resolution. But what complicates that hope is the fact that over the past several months since the negotiations started, the high rate of bloodshed has continued. And that’s largely because the Taliban are refusing a ceasefire. They are initiating the attacks. And what that indicates is that perhaps the Taliban leaders at the top are walking such a fine line with their battlefield fighters, that they’re struggling to sell a compromise, and that perhaps the foot soldiers feel that they have sacrificed and lost so much in 19 years, and they’re so close to what they want, that they don’t want to just allow their political leaders to make that decision for them at the table, that they want to continue their military pressure and influence till the very last minute. But the reality that creates is, it continues the despair, it continues the hopelessness for the Afghan people. Because despite a start to peace talks, lives are being lost on a daily basis.

michael barbaro

Mujib, it must be a strange time for you to be leaving Kabul as you are. I know your time as a reporter in Afghanistan is coming to an end. And I mean strange not just because of a delicate moment we’re in, in these discussions about the role of the Taliban, but because this is where you grew up.

mujib mashal

Yes, emotionally I will not be able to disconnect from this place. This is where my family lives. This is the place that shaped me. I will always feel what happens here.

Kabul, from those days of rockets and explosions that I described, has transformed into a massive, crowded city of 6 to 7 million. There is music. There is free media. There is just the color of a happening urban center. And this generation, my generation, has grown in this new reality over the past 20 years. My worry is whether this new foundation that’s been built for a vibrant reality will sustain, will grow. But what I fear is that we may slip back to those dark nightmares of factional fighting in the ‘90s.

So it is a turning moment. It’s an inflection point. And it does feel like if it’s not grabbed right now, this conflict could go on for another generation. And the fear is that in that space of war, things only get more extreme. The violence only gets more extreme. The brutality gets more extreme. That if this slips into another generational conflict, what we’ve seen over the past 40 years in terms of the brutality will probably pale in comparison to what will come.

michael barbaro

Well, let’s hope that doesn’t happen.

mujib mashal

Let’s hope so.

michael barbaro

Well, thank you, Mujib. We wish you the best of luck in your next assignment.

mujib mashal

Thank you.

michael barbaro

Mujib is leaving Afghanistan to become the South Asia correspondent for The Times based in Delhi starting in January.

We’ll be right back.

Here’s what else you need to know today. On Tuesday, the leaders of three major medical associations, the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association, and the American Nurses Association, urged President Trump to begin working with President-elect Joe Biden on a transition, saying that it would save lives at the height of the pandemic. In a letter, the group said that a well planned transition, which Trump has blocked, would ensure the smooth distribution of a vaccine and ensure that there is, quote, “no lapse in our ability to care for patients.” And President Trump has fired the official most responsible for the security of the election after the official, Christopher Krebs, repeatedly disputed Trump’s false and baseless claims of election fraud. Krebs, the head of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, was widely expected to be fired after publicly challenging the president.

That’s it for The Daily. I’m Michael Barbaro. See you tomorrow.

Keeping those air bases would mean retaining the military’s ability to use drones to attack militants with the Shabab, the Qaeda-linked terrorist group — at least those deemed to pose a threat to American interests. The smaller number of troops that would remain in Iraq and Afghanistan also would be sufficient to maintain some ability to carry out counterterrorism raids and strikes, officials said. The Afghanistan and Iraq troop decisions were reported earlier by CNN.

Mr. Trump said in a Twitter post last month that he wanted all 4,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan home by Christmas, but top military and national security aides advised against such a precipitous withdrawal. The president eventually agreed to the smaller drawdown, officials said.

Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, Robert C. O’Brien, said last month that the United States would withdraw about 2,500 troops from Afghanistan by early next year — indirectly rebuking Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for openly questioning that timeline.

Shortly before Mr. Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper last week and installed Christopher C. Miller as the acting Pentagon chief, Mr. Esper had sent a classified memo to the White House expressing concerns about accelerating the troop drawdown in Afghanistan, a senior administration official said.

Conditions on the ground were not yet right, Mr. Esper is said to have written, citing continuing violence, the dangers a rapid pullout could pose for the remaining troops, the effect on alliances and fear of undermining peace negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government. The memo was reported earlier by The Washington Post.

Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, delivered a thinly veiled warning to Mr. Trump from the Senate floor on Monday, suggesting that the president would put himself at risk of squandering his record of accomplishment in the Middle East and repeating the mistakes of former President Barack Obama, a predecessor he loathes.

“A rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan now would hurt our allies and delight the people who wish us harm,” Mr. McConnell said. For a leader who has loyally stood by Mr. Trump on most domestic policy issues, the departure was notable.

“The consequences of a premature American exit would likely be even worse than President Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq back in 2011, which fueled the rise of ISIS and a new round of global terrorism,” Mr. McConnell said. “It would be reminiscent of the humiliating American departure from Saigon in 1975.”

Exiting foreign conflicts — and Afghanistan in particular — has been a central component of Mr. Trump’s “America First” agenda since he ran for office in 2016. That appeal has particularly animated his base of populist voters, many of them veterans who have grown weary of their roles in longstanding wars. The president views his record on this issue as important to any political future he might pursue.

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Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Mr. Esper’s caution on troop reductions was one of several factors that led to his firing. After his departure, a group of new officials arrived, including Douglas Macgregor, a retired Army colonel and a fierce proponent of ending American involvement in Afghanistan.

It is unclear if the remaining NATO and allied troops in Afghanistan — about 7,000 people who primarily train government forces — would also withdraw. But officials said some in the country’s north and west were likely to do so, as they are reliant on American transport and, in some cases, protection.

That would leave American forces to advise from one key U.S.-Afghan command center, helping the Afghan military marshal its resources and plan its defenses. Much of the rest would be in about five smaller regional targeting teams — and composed of small detachments of Special Operations forces — that would help with targeting insurgent groups.

The proposal to draw down to about 2,000 to 2,500 troops in Afghanistan comes as the country’s forces are besieged in the south and the north. Morale is low among Afghan security forces, and the uncertainty has led local political leaders to cut deals with the advancing Taliban.

October was the deadliest month for civilians since September 2019, according to data compiled by The New York Times. More than 200 civilians were killed.

Peace talks in Qatar between Afghan and Taliban negotiators have stalled primarily because of the Afghan government’s reluctance to use the February deal as a guiding document for the discussions.

Afghanistan specialists said that the accelerated but partial withdrawal could complicate policy choices for President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his incoming national security team, but it was preferable to a complete pullout.

“Quickly reducing to 2500 would narrow Biden Admin options and undercut peace talks, but wouldn’t create the utter upheaval of going to zero that fast,” Laurel E. Miller, a former top State Department official who worked on Afghanistan and Pakistan diplomacy for both Mr. Trump and Mr. Obama, said on Twitter last week.

Most U.S. troops in Somalia, the war-torn nation in the Horn of Africa, are Special Operations forces stationed at a small number of bases across the country. Their missions include training and advising Somali army and counterterrorism troops and conducting kill-or-capture raids of their own targeting Shabab militants.

Mr. Trump’s push to leave Somalia before the end of his term comes at a delicate time: Somalia is preparing for parliamentary elections next month and a presidential election scheduled for early February. The removal of U.S. troops could complicate any ability to keep election rallies and voting safe from Shabab bombers. It also comes at a time of political turmoil in neighboring Ethiopia, whose army has also battled the Shabab.

The timing “could not be any worse,” said Brittany Brown, who worked on Somalia policy at the National Security Council under Mr. Obama and Mr. Trump. She said she did support pulling out of Somalia over all.

“This is not the time to do it, because this election is really important — this one matters a lot,” said Ms. Brown, who is now the chief of staff of the International Crisis Group, a nonprofit organization focused on deadly conflicts. “I hope this doesn’t send Somalia back into failed-state chaos, because this would embolden Al Shabab.”

It is not clear whether other parts of the U.S. government — such as C.I.A. operatives, the ambassador and other State Department diplomats who are based at a heavily fortified bunker at the airport in Mogadishu, the Somali capital — will also withdraw from Somali territory along with the military.

Somalia has faced civil war, droughts and violence from Islamist extremists for years. The United States intervened in the country as peacekeepers at the end of the George Bush administration, but abandoned it not long after the “Black Hawk Down” battle in 1993, which killed 18 Americans and hundreds of militia fighters.

The Shabab, an Islamist terrorist group whose name means “the youth,” emerged around 2007 and has violently vied for control of Somalia with occasional attacks outside its borders, including an attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2013 that killed more than five dozen civilians and a deadly assault on an American air base at Manda Bay, Kenya, in January.

Shabab leaders pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda in 2012. In 2016, shortly before leaving office, the Obama administration deemed them part of the congressionally authorized war against the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks. Under the Trump administration, the military sharply increased airstrikes targeting Shabab militants.

Eric Schmitt, Charlie Savage and Helene Cooper reported from Washington, and Thomas Gibbons-Neff from Kabul, Afghanistan. Jennifer Steinhauer and Nicholas Fandos contributed reporting from Washington.

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