At the Pentagon, acting Defense Secretary Christopher C. Miller told reporters that the troop cuts in Afghanistan — he called them “repositioning” — would not adversely affect the safety of remaining American soldiers, diplomats or intelligence officers on the ground, and “does not equate to a change in U.S. policy or objectives.”
The cuts, with a deadline five days before Mr. Biden is to be inaugurated in January, will leave behind a force that military planners see as a critical counterterrorism force to serve as a hedge against Al Qaeda and Islamic State loyalists and to try to keep neighboring countries from meddling more forcefully in Afghanistan. Mr. Biden has referred to that kind of force in his own sparing mentions of a future Afghan strategy.
Mr. Miller, a former Army Green Beret who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, said he spent Tuesday morning calling NATO allies and other partners to notify them of Mr. Trump’s new orders and to reassure them of America’s commitment to the nearly two-decade-old mission in Afghanistan.
“We went in together, we adjust together, and, when the time is right, we will leave together,” Mr. Miller said.
But NATO’s secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, appeared to express frustration with the sped-up American withdrawal. In a sharply worded statement Tuesday, he warned that “the price for leaving too soon or in an uncoordinated way could be very high.”
“Even with further U.S. reductions, NATO will continue its mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces,” Mr. Stoltenberg said.
Most notably, Italian and German forces, which rely on American transport and protection for their missions in northern and western Afghanistan, would have a decision about whether to scale back their operations as well.
Afghan officials involved in the peace negotiations with the Taliban in Qatar insisted that withdrawal or not, they would still be prioritizing the negotiation process.