Expect US election to have consequences for troops overseas

Approaches of both presdiential candidates differ and the outcome of the November 3 election will have long-term consequences not only for US troops, but for the wider region.

Published: 12th September 2020 07:47 PM  |   Last Updated: 12th September 2020 07:47 PM   |  A+A-

Democrat Joe Biden and US President Donald Trump (Photos | AP)

Democrat Joe Biden and US President Donald Trump (Photos | AP)


WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden both say they want to pull US forces out of Iraq and Afghanistan.

But their approaches differ, and the outcome of the November 3 election will have long-term consequences not only for US troops, but for the wider region.

During his election campaign four years ago, Trump pledged to bring all troops home from “endless wars," at times triggering pushback from military commanders, defense leaders and even Republican lawmakers worried about abruptly abandoning partners on the ground.

In recent months he has only increased the pressure, working to fulfill that promise and get forces home before Election Day.

More broadly, Trump's 'America First' mantra has buoyed voters weary of war and frustrated with the billions of dollars spent on national defense at the expense of domestic needs.

But it has also alienated longtime European partners whose forces have fought alongside the United States, and has bruised America's reputation as a loyal ally.

Biden has been more adamant about restoring US relations with allies and NATO, and his stance on these wars is more measured.

He says troops must be withdrawn responsibly and that a residual force presence will be needed in Afghanistan to ensure terrorist groups can't rebuild and attack America again.

That approach, however, angers progressives and others who believe the US has spent too much time, money and blood on battlefields far from home.

“We're getting out of the endless wars,” Trump told White House reporters recently.

He said the “top people in the Pentagon” probably don't love him because “they want to do nothing but fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy.”

He continued: "Let's bring our soldiers back home.

Some people don't like to come home.

Some people like to continue to spend money.”

Biden, the former vice president, has sounded less absolute about troop withdrawal.

In response to a candidate questionnaire from the Center for Foreign Relations, he said some troops could stay in Afghanistan to focus on the counterterrorism mission.

“Americans are rightly weary of our longest war; I am, too. But we must end the war responsibly, in a manner that ensures we both guard against threats to our homeland and never have to go back,” he said.

While both talk about troops withdrawals, each has, in some ways, tried and failed.

Trump came into office condemning the wars and declaring he would bring all troops home.

When he took over, the number of forces in Afghanistan had been capped at about 8,400 for some time by his predecessor, President Barack Obama.

But within a year that total climbed to about 15,000, as Trump approved commanders' requests for additional troops to reverse setbacks in the training of Afghan forces, fight an increasingly dangerous Islamic State group and put enough pressure on the Taliban to force it to the peace table.

Biden was part of the Obama administration's failed effort to negotiate an agreement with Iraqi leaders in 2011, and as a result the US pulled all American forces out of that country.

That withdrawal was short-lived.

Just three years later, as IS militants took over large swaths of Iraq, the US again deployed troops into Iraq and neighboring Syria to defeat IS.

With an eye toward the election, Trump has accelerated his push to bring troops home.

General Frank McKenzie, the top US military commander for the Middle East, said in recent days that by November, the number of troops in Afghanistan could drop to 4,500, and the number in Iraq could dip from about 5,000 to 3,000.


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