Romney calls decision on troop withdrawal 'politically motivated'; 2 in Utah delegation disagree

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, speaks during a news conference on Oct. 15, 2020, near Neffs Canyon, in Salt Lake City.

(Rick Bowmer, Associated Press, File)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mitt Romney called for the Trump administration to reconsider its "politically motivated" decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan and Iraq in January.

Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller announced Tuesday that the U.S. will remove thousands of troops from the two countries by Jan. 15, 2021, just days before President-elect Joe Biden takes office. There are about 4,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and 3,000 troops in Iraq.

Romney, R-Utah, said the decision to reduce troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and potentially elsewhere should not be based on a U.S. political calendar.

"The administration has yet to explain why reducing troops in Afghanistan — where conditions for withdrawal have not been met — is a wise decision for our national security interests in the region. Similarly, with continued security challenges in the Middle East, an arbitrary withdrawal from Iraq risks alienating our allies and emboldening our enemies," he said in a statement.

"At a time when our adversaries are looking for every opportunity to exploit our weaknesses, the administration should reconsider and reverse this politically motivated decision and avoid worsening our national security challenges."

Romney earlier criticized the Trump administration's plans to reduce U.S. troops in Germany from 34,500 to 25,000. He called it a slap in the face to an American ally and a gift to Russia.

Though he didn't mention Romney by name, Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, had strong words for those who criticized Trump's decision.

"Is your criticism informed and well-reasoned? Or is it generated primarily by your dislike for the president," he tweeted Wednesday.

Stewart, a member of the House Intelligence Committee and former Air Force pilot, said anger and resentment grows each year over U.S. presence in the region.

"Every year, we sacrifice our blood and treasure for two nations that have a seeming inability, and some instances a proven disinterest, in securing the own future," he said. "More importantly, every precious life, military asset and dollar we spend in the region makes us less able to counter the far more strategic challenges we face around the world."

Utah GOP Sen. Mike Lee also praised Trump's decision Wednesday and said it's long past time to bring the troops home.

"For too long, U.S. engagement in Afghanistan and Iraq has operated without a clear mission or end strategy. In the new year, I hope to see a full withdrawal of forces and a Congress ready to repeal the outdated 2001 and 2002 authorizations for the use of military force," he said in a statement.

In the new year, I hope to see a full withdrawal of forces and a Congress ready to repeal the outdated 2001 and 2002 authorizations for the use of military force.

–Sen. Mike Lee

President Donald Trump campaigned on ending "ridiculous endless wars" in the Middle East.

Last month he tweeted, "We should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas!"

Miller told reporters the withdrawal would leave about 2,500 troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"This decision by the president is based on continuous engagement with his national security Cabinet over the past several months, including ongoing discussions with me and my colleagues across the United States government," he said at the Pentagon.

National security adviser Robert O'Brien told reporters those troops would defend the American embassies and the other U.S. government agencies "doing important work in those countries."

"They'll enable our American allies in their important missions in those countries. They'll defend our diplomats and they'll deter our foes," he said. "By May, it is President Trump's hope that they will all come home safely, and in their entirety."

O'Brien said the policy is not new. "This has been the president's policy since he took office," he said.

Miller said he spoke with key congressional leaders as well as U.S. allies and partners abroad, including NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday to update them on the plan in light of their shared approach. NATO has more than 7,000 troops in Afghanistan.

"We went in together, we adjust together and when the time is right, we will leave together," Miller said.

Earlier Tuesday, Stoltenberg said that NATO now faces a difficult decision.

"We have been in Afghanistan for almost 20 years, and no NATO ally wants to stay any longer than necessary. But at the same time, the price for leaving too soon or in an uncoordinated way could be very high," he said in a statement.

Afghanistan, he said, "risks becoming once again a platform for international terrorists to plan and organize attacks on our homelands. And could rebuild in Afghanistan the terror caliphate it lost in Syria and Iraq."

The wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria have cost U.S. taxpayers more than $1.57 trillion since Sept. 11, 2001, according to a Defense Department report. America's longest-running conflict in Afghanistan has cost taxpayers $193 billion, according to the Pentagon.

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Dennis Romboy
Dennis Romboy is an editor and reporter for the Deseret News. He has covered a variety of beats over the years, including state and local government, social issues and courts. A Utah native, Romboy earned a degree in journalism from the University of Utah. He enjoys cycling, snowboarding and running.


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