Trump’s Military Advisers Want Him To Expand America’s Longest War
America's longest war is still going on, and President Trump's advisers want him to continue his predecessor's policies of continuing to re-expand American forces in a war that has seemingly no end.
Advisers close to the President are reportedly recommending a ramping up of the American troop presence in Afghanistan, a sign that America’s longest war is far from over notwithstanding the current plans for most American troops to be out of the country in the near future:
WASHINGTON — 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.
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 Islamic State’s 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.
More from The Washington Post:
President Trump’s most senior military and foreign policy advisers have proposed a major shift in strategy in Afghanistan that would effectively put the United States back on a war footing with the Taliban.
The new plan, which still needs the approval of the president, calls for expanding the U.S. military role as part of a broader effort to push an increasingly confident and resurgent Taliban back to the negotiating table, U.S. officials said.
The plan comes at the end of a sweeping policy review built around the president’s desire to reverse worsening security in Afghanistan and “start winning” again, said one U.S. official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
The new strategy, which has the backing of top Cabinet officials, would authorize the Pentagon, not the White House, to set troop numbers in Afghanistan and give the military far broader authority to use airstrikes to target Taliban militants. It would also lift Obama-era restrictions that limited the mobility of U.S. military advisers on the battlefield.
The net result of the changes would be to reverse moves by President Barack Obama to steadily limit the U.S. military role in Afghanistan, along with the risk to American troops and the cost of the war effort, more than 15 years after U.S. forces first arrived there.
The new strategy is a product of the U.S. military’s mounting worries that the fragile stalemate with the Taliban has been steadily eroding for years, jeopardizing the survival of an allied government and endangering a key U.S. base for combating militant groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State throughout South Asia.
Even as it moves to the president’s desk, the proposal faces resistance from some senior administration officials who fear a repeat of earlier decisions to intensify military efforts that produced only temporary improvements.
Inside the White House, those opposed to the plan have begun to refer derisively to the strategy as “McMaster’s War,” a reference to H.R. McMaster, the president’s national security adviser. The general, who once led anti-corruption efforts in Afghanistan and was one of the architects of President George W. Bush’s troop surge in Iraq, is the driving force behind the new strategy at the White House.
The White House declined to comment.
The plan envisions an increase of at least 3,000 U.S. troops to an existing force of about 8,400. The U.S. force would also be bolstered by requests for matching troops from NATO nations.
But, in keeping with the Trump administration’s desire to empower military decision-making, the Pentagon would have final say on troop levels and how those forces are employed on the battlefield. The plan would also increase spending on Afghanistan’s troubled government in an effort to improve its capacity.
The additional troops and aid spending would add to the fiscal toll of a war that already costs $23 billion annually, a factor Trump advisers expect will weigh heavily in the president’s consideration of additional military actions.
In a break with the past, U.S. officials said that increases in U.S. troop levels and support to the Afghan government and military would be heavily conditioned on the ability of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who heads a fragile unity government, to weed out ineffective military commanders and reduce corruption, both of which have led some aggrieved Afghans to turn to the Taliban as a better alternative.
The question at the heart of the new strategy is whether U.S. and Afghan forces, even if bolstered by new troops and authorities to target the Taliban, can create enough pressure to push the war toward a negotiated settlement. Those opposing the escalation have argued that even the Obama-era surge, which peaked at 100,000, did not result in Taliban concessions in on-again, off-again U.S.-Taliban talks begun in 2011.
If Trump decides to accept the recommendations reportedly being made by his top military advisers, and the history of his short tenure to date suggests that he will, then he will be continuing in a long line of policy that began with his predecessor that has extended the American commitment to and involvement in the Afghan War that stretches back several years now. Last July, for example, President Obama announced that the withdrawal from Afghanistan that he had previously committed to years before would once again be slowed down in response to the fact that the war against the Taliban, which had largely been shifted to being the primary responsibility of the Afghan Army, was proving to be flaring up yet again notwithstanding apparent victory on the battlefield that would end up being merely temporary. Five months before that it had been announced that American troops would be deployed back into areas of Afghanistan where active combat was occurring, a reversal of a policy change that had stationed them in garrison bases and left the main burden of combat against the Taliban to the Afghan Army. In October 2015, President Obama announced a halt in the withdrawal of U.S. forces due to a resurgent Taliban in several Afghan provinces. A year before that, a plan that was supposed to lead to the final withdrawal of American forces was essentially scrapped and it was announced that American forces would continue to be involved in combat operations. Several months later, after a visit to the White House by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, the Obama Administration announced that the pace of withdrawal would be slowed even further. Finally, in April 2015 we learned that American forces were involved in more than just counterterrorism operations as President Obama’s original plan had said they would be limited to. In other words, the history of the past two or three years vis a vis Afghanistan has been one in which the President’s initial policy of finally ending the American commitment to Afghanistan was pushed further and further back. President Trump’s decision to accept the recommendation to follow the advice of his military commanders and advisers, if it occurs, would simply be continuing this pattern and officially doing away with a fiction that had long ago been abandoned in practice, the idea that America’s longest war would be ending anytime soon.
One issue that the media coverage of this impending decision mentions, but doesn’t answer, is how we’re ever going to be bringing this conflict to the kind of end where talk about ending active American combat involvement can come to an end. After fifteen years in which the United States and its allies were able to quickly push the Taliban out of power in Kabul and gain control of the major cities and population areas of the country, and to decimate the training grounds that al Qaeda and its affiliates once launched terrorist attacks, the position of the Afghan government is still far from secure. In some respects, this seems to be due to the fact that, notwithstanding democratic elections, the central government is still viewed with suspicion in many parts of the country where tribal loyalties remain stronger than national unity. The fact that the central government has frequently been linked to charges of corruption and self-dealing, especially under the Administration of former President Hamid Karzai, has only lent credence to those doubts. Additionally, those tribal loyalties have allowed the Taliban to continue to find a safe haven outside the major cities yet still retain enough organization to launch terrorist attacks deep inside government-controlled parts of the country. In addition to the tribal loyalties, the Taliban and al Qaeda have also been able to use Pakistan as a refuge with little fear of being disturbed due to the fact that the United States needs to keep Pakistan on its side if the war in Afghanistan is ever going to get under control. As long as that’s the case, military efforts against the Taliban will continue.
All of this is a long way of saying that America’s longest war, which began less than a month after the September 11th attacks, will continue well into a third Presidential Administration. Indeed, as things stand it’s hard to see how the war comes to an end before we reach the end of President Trump’s third term, at which point people who were infants at the time the war started will be able to join the rest of us in an adult beverage while we watch this mess continue without seeming end.