Jan. 15 (UPI) -- U.S. troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan fell to 2,500 in each country in accordance with White House orders, the Acting Defense Secretary announced on Friday.
In separate statements, Acting Secretary Christopher Miller said the Afghanistan drawdown, to a level not seen since 2001, brings the country "closer than ever to ending nearly two decades of war."
Similarly, the Iraq reduction is "reflective of the increased capabilities of the Iraqi Security Forces," Miller said.
The United States will maintain a counterterrorism platform in Iraq, involving airpower and intelligence.
Miller said, however, that the Afghan peace process includes Defense Department planning "capable of further reducing U.S. troop levels to zero by May of 2021."
Before Esper's departure, he sent a classified memo to the White House recommending that troops not be reduced in Afghanistan until certain conditions were met.
The recommendation was backed by U.S. Central Command chief Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie and Gen. Austin Miller, NATO's head of command in Afghanistan.
In December, negotiators for the Afghanistan government and Taliban insurgents reached a breakthrough agreement on the rules and agenda for long-awaited peace talks.
Gradual U.S. troop withdrawal is part of the deal, with the understanding that the resulting unity government cannot allow Afghanistan to become a base for future terror attacks.