Good afternoon. I’m Chris Miller, Acting Secretary of Defense, and I am here today to update you on President Trump’s plan to bring the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to a successful and responsible conclusion, and to bring our brave Service members home.
From Kabul to Kandahar, and from Mosul to Fallujah, hundreds of thousands of America’s finest sons and daughters who selflessly answered the call to serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard, have brought us to this point. Their efforts and sacrifice will go down in history as epitomizing the strength, commitment and empathy of a force that is unlike any the world has ever seen.
Just last night, I joined Vice President Mike Pence and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Milley, to attend the dignified transfer of five American Soldiers who perished on duty in the Middle East. This was a somber and humbling moment that reminded us of the tremendous sacrifices made by the men and women of the United States military in service of freedom and security.
Our Armed Forces take an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. They serve not for personal gain, but for the protection and wellbeing of their fellow Americans and their homeland. They are champions for peace, liberty, and the rule of law – and unrelenting when called upon to defend our people and our values. We owe them and their loved ones an enormous debt of gratitude.
This is why I am enormously blessed and privileged to stand before you today to outline the next phase of our campaign to defeat terrorists who have perpetrated attacks on our homeland – including those who help and harbor them – and to prevent future acts of terrorism against our Nation.
We owe this moment to the many patriots who made the ultimate sacrifice and their comrades who carry forward their legacy. Together, we have mourned the loss of more than 6,900 American troops who gave their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq. And we will never forget the more than 52,000 who bear the wounds of war, and all those who still carry its scars – visible and invisible.
In light of these tremendous sacrifices, and with great humility and gratitude to those who came before us, I am formally announcing that we will implement President Trump’s orders to continue our repositioning of forces from those two countries.
By January 15, 2021, our force size in Afghanistan will be 2,500 troops. Our force size in Iraq will also be 2,500 by that same date. This is consistent with our established plans and strategic objectives; supported by the American people; and does not equate to a change in U.S. policy or objectives.
Moreover, 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.
I have also spoken with our military commanders and we will execute this repositioning in a way that protects our fighting men and women, our partners in the Intelligence Community and diplomatic corps, and our superb allies that are critical to rebuilding Afghan and Iraqi security capabilities and civil society for a lasting peace in troubled lands.
And just this morning, I spoke with key leaders in Congress as well as our allies and partners abroad to update them on these plans, in light of our shared approach: we went in together, we adjust together, and when the time is right, we will leave together. One of my calls was to NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg. Another was to Afghanistan’s President Ghani, who expressed his gratitude for every American Service member who has fought for peace and strengthened the longstanding friendship between our countries.
President Ghani highlighted the caliber of our troops, which he noted has always been more important than the quantity. We continue to stand with him as his government works toward a negotiated settlement for peace.
Meanwhile, let us remind those who question our resolve or may seek to interfere with this prudent, well-planned and coordinated transition: the United States Armed Forces remain committed to protecting the safety and security of the American people and supporting our like-minded allies and partners worldwide. If the forces of terror, instability, division, and hate begin a deliberate campaign to disrupt our efforts, we stand ready to apply the capabilities required to thwart them.
As a veteran whose life and family was irrevocably changed in the deserts, mountains, and cities of Iraq and Afghanistan, along with the hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops who have fought there and were forever transformed by their experiences, I celebrate this day as we continue the President’s consistent progress in completing the mission we began nearly two decades ago.
I want to thank the Afghans and Iraqis who have partnered with us throughout, and who now carry the bulk of the fighting to secure their homelands. I want to thank our NATO allies and other partners who have fought alongside us and taken the lead on training and advising the Afghan and Iraqi security forces – we will continue to support their efforts. And, thanks to our more than 80 partners in the Defeat-ISIS Coalition, we have destroyed the ISIS caliphate and will ensure they never again gain a foothold to attack our people.
In closing, we set out to accomplish three goals in 2001:
- Go abroad and destroy terrorists, their organizations, and their sanctuaries;
- Strengthen our defenses against future attacks; and,
- Prevent the continued growth of Islamist terrorism, to include by working with allies and local partners to take the lead in the fight.
Today is another critical step in that direction, and a result of President Trump’s bold leadership. With the blessings of Providence in the coming year, we will finish this generational war, and bring our men and women home. We will protect our children from the heavy burden and toll of perpetual war. And we will honor the sacrifices made in service to peace and stability in Afghanistan, Iraq, and around the world, and celebrate all those who helped us secure freedom over oppression.
God bless our women and men in uniform. Thank you very much.