Trump Advisers Call for More Troops to Break Afghan Deadlock

Senior Trump administration and military officials are recommending sending several thousand additional American troops to Afghanistan to try to break a military deadlock in the 15-year war there, in part by pressuring the Taliban to negotiate with the Afghan government.

The added troops would allow American advisers to work with a greater number of Afghan forces, and closer to the front lines.

The recommendation, which has yet to be approved by President Trump, is the product of a broad review by the Pentagon, the State Department, intelligence community and other government agencies on America’s longest war.

It is broadly consistent with advice Gen. John W. Nicholson, the top American commander in Afghanistan, gave Congress in February, The New York Times reported.

Warning that the United States and its NATO allies faced a “stalemate,” General Nicholson told lawmakers that he had a shortfall of a “few thousand” troops and said more personnel would enable the American military to advise the Afghan military more effectively and at lower levels in the chain of command.

The international force assisting the Afghans has about 13,000 troops, of whom about 8,400 are American.

American officials said that 3,000 to 5,000 additional troops, including hundreds of Special Operations forces, could be sent. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

NATO nations would also be asked to send thousands of troops, and the precise number of American forces deployed would probably depend on what those allies were prepared to do.

Mr. Trump is expected to make a decision on his Afghan strategy before a May 25 NATO meeting in Brussels. The recommendation of his top advisers was first reported by The Washington Post.

How to handle the situation in Afghanistan, which was rarely discussed during the presidential campaign, looms as a major decision for Mr. Trump. In some respects, it is a liability for a president who has called for putting “America first.” Deploying more troops would cost billions of dollars, and there is no guarantee of a clear win. The United States failed to produce successful negotiations when it had 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, a poor country with little in the way of natural resources.

But without a strong American military role, the Taliban and more extreme groups like the Daesh (also known as ISIL or ISIS) Afghan wing would most likely gain ground, weakening Mr. Trump’s vow to defeat Islamic extremists. Pulling back would also put Mr. Trump at odds with generals whom he embraced and turned to for national security advice.

The shift of strategy recommended by Mr. Trump’s advisers reflects the assessment that a major new troop commitment — like the 30,000-troop reinforcement President Barack Obama announced in December 2009 — is undesirable and politically impossible. But it also reflects the assumption that maintaining the current level of forces could leave the United States presiding over a slow deterioration in security, with fading hopes for a negotiated settlement between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

One twist is that the new strategy would dispense with the hard deadlines the Obama administration set, and was sometimes forced to revise, for gradually withdrawing troops.

Many military officers have argued that setting a public deadline for withdrawal is counterproductive because it allows adversaries to wait out the American and NATO troop commitment instead of forcing them to the negotiating table.

But Mr. Trump’s advisers do not want a new American commitment to be open-ended, and they are suggesting that its duration be dependent on steps by President Ashraf Ghani to fight corruption and appoint more effective commanders.

Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, led an anticorruption task force in Afghanistan and is especially sensitive to the need for better governing in Kabul. Jim Mattis, the secretary of defense, also has extensive experience with Afghanistan, having overseen the military effort there as head of the United States Central Command.

The generals, however, are not the only ones who favor a stronger commitment to Afghanistan. American intelligence officials also want more support, calculating that a stronger military presence would assist their intelligence efforts against extremist groups in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan.

One issue that remains unclear is how the new strategy would deal with the safe havens the Taliban and other militant groups have in Pakistan.

General Nicholson acknowledged to Congress that it was “very difficult to succeed on the battlefield when your enemy enjoys external support and safe haven.” He urged “a holistic review” of American policy toward Pakistan.

American forces have two basic missions in Afghanistan: advising and training Afghan forces and conducting counterterrorism missions, like a recent operation in which about 50 Army Rangers and a similar number of Afghan commandos killed the leader of the Afghan branch of the ISIL.

General Nicholson told Congress the shortfall was mainly in forces for training and advising the Afghans. Currently, advisers are working with Afghans mostly at the command level of the army corps. But more advisers, he said, would enable the American-led coalition to work at the level of the Afghan brigades.

Military advisers are generally considered more effective if they are not limited to advising foreign armies in their headquarters, but extend to units in the field.

The Obama administration’s decision last summer to give American commanders more flexibility to provide air support for Afghan forces fighting the Taliban increased the need for advisers below the level of the Afghan army corps, General Nicholson told Congress.

Source: Tasnim News Agency

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