At a time when President Trump is looking to win the war in Afghanistan, word comes that U.S. active-duty military presence overseas is at its smallest levels in 60 years.
According to the most recent data, the number of active duty U.S. military troops stationed overseas has fallen below 200,000 for the first time in at least 60 years, since before 1957.
The decline has occurred across the board, including South Korea, which has become a touchstone amid escalating tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, the hermit state run by the cheese-loving Kim Jong-un.
In 2016, there were 1.3-million active duty U.S. military personnel. Of these, 193,442, or 15%, were deployed overseas. That’s the smallest number and share of active duty members overseas since at least 1957.
The five countries with the highest presence of active duty U.S. military forces in 2016 were Japan (38,818), Germany (34,602), South Korea (24,189), Italy (12,088), and Afghanistan (9,023).
While the U.S. has had military personnel stationed in Germany and South Korea for decades, the number of active-duty troops in each is at modern day lows. In 1962, U.S. military presence peaked in Germany at 274,119; that’s nearly eight times the level recorded in 2016.
In 1957, just a few years after the Korean War, the U.S. had 71,043 personnel stationed in South Korea. That’s nearly triple its military presence in 2016.
Regionally, Asia and Europe made up 70% of the U.S.’ active duty military personnel worldwide in 2016. Meanwhile, 13% were in the Middle East and North Africa and three percent were in sub-Saharan Africa or the Americas. The remaining 14% were in other locations.
Afghanistan is the only one of the top five countries currently in the midst of open conflict. President Trump recently vowed to win the war in Afghanistan by committing more U.S. troops and has called on NATO allies, like Britain, to increase their troop numbers.
This is in sharp contrast to what Trump said on the election campaign, when he said the mission in Afghanistan was a waste of U.S. efforts and that he wanted to pull troops out. But doing so, he now says, would leave a power vacuum that would be filled by terrorists, just like it happened in Iraq.
Over the past 60 years, the U.S. had the most active duty troops overseas during the Vietnam War era, when it peaked at 1.22 million in 1967, 36% of the total active-duty force. Of those, 450,000 were in Vietnam.
In 1968, Vietnam was home to the largest U.S. military presence of any single country in the past six decades at 537,377 troops—nearly 45% of all active-duty troops overseas at the time.
This is a lot larger than the peak totals for more-recent conflicts. In Afghanistan, U.S. active military presence peaked in 2011 at 82,174, while the presence in and around Iraq peaked in 2007 with 218,500 troops.
“U.S. active-duty military presence overseas is at its smallest in decades,” Pew Research, August 22, 2017.