Congress Moves to Block US Troop Withdrawal from Afghanistan and Germany

The United States Capitol building at night

President Donald Trump's controversial orders to withdraw 2,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan and 12,000 from Germany would be blocked by the massive defense policy bill now headed to his desk.

One provision of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2021 would block funding for reducing the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 by Jan. 15, as ordered by Trump, until the Defense and State Departments verify that it was in the national interest.

Another provision of the NDAA essentially called on the incoming Biden administration to take a second look at Trump's executive order to pull 12,000 U.S. troops from Germany.

The bill said troop levels in Germany should remain at 34,500 until 120 days after the secretary of defense submitted cost estimates and assessments of the impact of a withdrawal on allies and military families.

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The final version of the NDAA, released Thursday night, said that Afghanistan withdrawal orders announced by Acting Defense Secretary Christopher C. Miller on Nov. 17, gave Congress no estimate of the national security implications.

The Trump administration has thus far failed to explain how a troop withdrawal was "in the national security interests of the United States to deny terrorists safe haven in Afghanistan, protect the United States homeland," the conferees said.

The NDAA provision also asked for details on whether the withdrawal would impact on the "hard-fought gains for the rights of women, girls, and other vulnerable populations in Afghanistan."

Trump's June announcement that he wanted 9,500 troops out of Germany after years of jousting with NATO allies to pay more for defense has also drawn opposition from both sides of the aisle.

On July 29, then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced a plan to carry out Trump's order that increased the number of troops to be withdrawn from Germany to 12,000.

Some of those troops would return to the U.S., while others would go to Poland and the Baltic states in a shift eastward to enhance NATO's deterrence against Russia, Esper said at the time.

The NDAA provision on Germany means that final decisions on a troop withdrawal could go to Michele Flournoy, a former undersecretary of Defense for Policy who is considered a frontrunner for defense secretary in the Biden administration.

Flournoy has already stated that pulling thousands of troops out of Germany would likely cost more than leaving them in place.

At an Aspen Security Forum in August, Flournoy also said that "Our allies were completely surprised by this punitive troop withdrawal from Germany."

In addition, once he is inaugurated on Jan. 20, Biden would have the authority to issue his own executive order reversing Trump's withdrawal mandate.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at

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