American Defense Secretary James Mattis announced on Sunday that President Trump has come to a decision regarding the United States’ strategy in Afghanistan. According to Mattis, the president went through a “sufficiently rigorous” review process before deciding the future of America’s military investment in the embattled nation.
Mattis did not, however, reveal the details of the new strategy, nor did he give any indication as to when the White House plans to make a formal announcement. The United States has led the fight against Islamist Extremist groups in Afghanistan for more than 15 years, but the nature of the war has shifted over time. While American forces primarily focus on eliminating ISIS-K, or the Afghan branch of the terrorist organization the Islamic State, the Afghan government remains at war with a larger group in the region, the Taliban. Fighting with ISIS, the Taliban, and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan reached what U.S. commanders referred to as “a stalemate” last year, prompting the need for a revised strategy, and according to many defense officials, an influx of troops from the United States or other allied nations.
I am very comfortable that the strategic process was sufficiently rigorous and did not go in with a pre-set position,” Mattis told reporters traveling with him aboard a military aircraft to Jordan. “The president has made a decision. As he said, he wants to be the one to announce it to the American people.”
President Trump promised to review the U.S.’s policy on Afghanistan soon after taking office in January, but that review soon grew to engulf tensions elsewhere in the world, such as with North Korea, creating a delay in his decision. Several politicians from the right and left have been critical of Trump’s slow progress on Afghanistan, where 11 Americans have died since the beginning of the year. Senator John McCain recently unveiled his own proposed strategy, which he is attempting to have added to the NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act), though even the addition would serve only as a symbolic gesture.
The President also took to Twitter to announce that a decision had been made, though he also has not provided any details regarding it thus far; “Important day spent at Camp David with our very talented Generals and military leaders,” Trump tweeted. “Many decisions made, including on Afghanistan.”
Unconfirmed reports in media outlets cite an official speaking under “the condition of anonymity,” as stating President Trump’s top security aides went into this weekend’s meetings with a position that supported adding between 3,000 and 5,000 U.S. troops to the fight in Afghanistan, to serve embedded with Afghan forces in support and advisory roles. If true, that would be in keeping with requests levied by defense officials, but does not indicate whether or not the President would have agreed to their recommendations.
The United States currently has about 8,400 troops operating in Afghanistan, many of whom serve as advisors to top-level Afghan defense officials, but local commanders have called for an increase in advisors at lower levels of the command structure. In particular, advisors are needed to help train Afghan military leaders in how to utilize American air support and improve the planning and execution of operations against groups like the Taliban.
Image courtesy of the Dept. of Defense