Mitt Romney criticizes Trump for withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan, Iraq

Utah Sen. Mitt Romney said Tuesday that a decision by the Trump administration to cut in half the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and some withdrawals in Iraq “risks alienating our allies and emboldening our enemies.”

Romney, chairman of a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee that oversees the Middle East, issued a statement criticizing the move by Trump eight days after the president fired Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, who had said conditions did not warrant such reductions.

But those reductions were announced Tuesday by Esper’s replacement, Acting Defense Secretary Christopher C. Miller. It was seen as a move by Trump to move closer to a 4-year-old campaign promise to remove troops despite concerns that it could undermine negotiations with the Taliban after not meeting required conditions for the withdrawal.

“The decision to withdraw our troops from Afghanistan, Iraq, and potentially elsewhere should not be based on a U.S. political calendar,” Romney said in a written statement.

“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,” he wrote.

With continued security challenges in the Middle East, Romney said “an arbitrary withdrawal from Iraq risks alienating our allies and emboldening our enemies.”

The Utah Republican said that now is not the time for such moves.

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

Miller announced in a Pentagon speech that the military will carry out Trump’s orders by Jan. 15. He said troops in Afghanistan would be reduced from about 5,000 to 2,500, and from about 3,000 to 2,500 in Iraq.

“We owe this moment to the many patriots who made the ultimate sacrifice and our comrades who carry forward their legacy,” Miller said.

He said the county would not forget the more than 6,900 U.S. troops who gave their lives in the two countries, and another 52,000 who were wounded.

The decision in Afghanistan comes nine months after the Trump administration and the Taliban reached a deal that would remove all U.S. troops there by next year if conditions are met.

Senior U.S. military officials have raised concerns about the Taliban meeting those conditions, noting a spike in violence against Afghans and ongoing questions about whether it will break with al-Qaeda.

Romney, of course, is known as one of few Republican leaders who is outspoken with criticism of Trump. He was the first GOP senator to congratulate Democrat Joe Biden as the winner in the presidential election as Trump continues to claim he won. Romney also was the only Republican senator to vote to impeach Trump.

The president in turn has often criticized Romney.

At a Pennsylvania campaign rally, Trump called Romney “our worst senator,” and said, “Romney couldn’t be elected dogcatcher in Utah right now.”

At an earlier news conference, Trump said, “I’m not a fan of Mitt Romney. ... I don’t really want his advice.”