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.

US Afghanistan

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.

 

FILED UNDER: Asia, Donald Trump, Military Affairs, National Security, Politicians, US Politics, World Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    The guy with 5 deferments wants to send other people’s kids to their death.




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  2. CSK says:

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl:

    Indeed. His bone spur affliction was so tragically debilitating he couldn’t remember which foot was affected.




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  3. Lit3Bolt says:

    Afghanistan is trying to Iran its way between the pressures of China, USA, RU, and India and Pakistan.

    Um…good luck?




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  4. Argon says:

    Who’d’ve known nation building would be so hard? Can’t you just declare bankruptcy and move on?




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  5. Scott says:

    I don’t have anything to contribute except:

    http://www.duffelblog.com/2017/04/bill-murray-groundhog-day-afghanistan/




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  6. Mr. Bluster says:
  7. Mikey says:

    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

    OH GOD PLEASE NO




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  8. michael reynolds says:

    I’m not sure I believe this story. Trump badly needs a distraction, and this does the job beautifully. The way the story is framed it throws McMaster under the bus and makes clear that Trump has yet to decide. Trump is notoriously unable to handle anyone but him getting credit, and McMaster’s gotten way too much praise for the narcissist-in-chief.

    This smells like Bannon leaking what may be nothing more than a list of possible options prepared by McMaster. If Bannon can widen the distance between Trump and McMaster that’s a win for Bannon and his position within the administration.




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  9. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    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.

    Do the military officers so arguing have any suggestions as to how one goes about forcing a hybrid collection of diffuse military entities with low centralized authority to the negotiating table in the first place? And how one guarantees that those with whom one is negotiating have the actual authority to carry out the agreement? And how one guarantees that they can in an environment where they are not actually a government, per se?




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  10. CSK says:

    @michael reynolds:

    And does it subtract a point from Team Kushner?




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  11. JohnMcC says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’nint cracker: I was going to comment on that paragraph also; a stupid phrase that I’ve heard all my life that almost never has actually succeeded: Fight them until they are forced to negotiate.

    That always works.




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  12. Mikey says:

    Seriously, though, I have a son who’s almost 13 and he’s never lived in an America that wasn’t at war. And given the apparent eternal nature of the Afghanistan conflict, it’s easily conceivable he could, were he to enlist, fight there. There are already troops serving there who were barely out of diapers when we invaded.

    When, and how, does it end?




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  13. Slugger says:

    The Soviet-Afghan war had around 120,000 Russians in the country at its peak. The war lasted ten years with about 15,000 Russian KIA. The Soviets lost. Just some facts to think about.




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  14. michael reynolds says:

    @JohnMcC:

    You can ‘fight them until they’re ready to negotiate,’ but not if you’re living within current rules of civilized behavior. The Nazis were ready to negotiate – right around the time the Red Army reached the Berlin suburbs. The Japanese were ready to negotiate – once we’d burned their cities to ashes. Most people chose to negotiate with Genghis, but only after he’d made gruesomely clear what happened to people who resisted him. (Bad, bad stuff. Bad.)

    There is a disconnect between the chin-jutting macho posture beloved on the Right, and what those same people – let alone liberals – are prepared to actually do. I am frequently attacked as some kind of warmonger for pointing out at that, yes, of course violence works. It works really well. But only if you’re prepared to go all-in. Our current approach appears to be based on the phony assumption that we are more brutal than we are in reality. Well, we aren’t. This is not 1944.

    So long as we reject the sledgehammer in favor of the scalpel, violence won’t work. Proportionality is a trap, it essentially just puts a price tag on enemy behavior – a price they are more often than not, willing to pay.

    Genghis was a monster, but he understood the equation, and we do not.




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  15. gVOR08 says:

    Saw a lefty blogger make the point years ago that making war in Afghanistan to suppress the Taliban is like invading Georgia to suppress the rednecks. It’s a life style more than an organization, and they’re everywhere.

    Trump has the opportunity to end this by just walking away and blaming everything on Obama. It’s early enough in his term for the electorate to have long forgotten it if he makes it to ’20. I wouldn’t even blame him for doing it. Admitting that outside his base that would be a lonely position. And it would be probably the only thing I wouldn’t blame him for. But I don’t think he’s bright enough to do it.

    He could also do enough of a surge to suppress Taliban activity for awhile, declare victory, and quit. Again, not bright enough. The generals are bright enough, but I suspect, feel they have a big enough hammer to win, not realizing that having the big hammer is why they see Afghanistan as a nail.




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  16. Tyrell says:

    What exactly is the goal ? What is the exit plan ?
    If there is no goal, no plan to acheive it, or no exit plan, then they need to begin withdrawal. Even the Russians did not stay that long.




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  17. michael reynolds says:

    @Tyrell:
    The goal is for Trump to be able to avoid headlines saying he lost Afghanistan. That was also Obama’s policy. It’s also why we stayed so long in Vietnam. It’s why Mussolini didn’t think, “Wow, if Ethiopians are this tough to beat, maybe I should drop that whole empire thing.” It’s why Hitler didn’t react to Kursk by thinking, “Hmm, time to reconsider.” It’s why the Confederacy kept fighting when their army was in rags and everyone knew they would lose. It’s why the Huns kept going even when they ran out of pasturage for their massive horse-borne army.

    No one wants to admit a mistake. No one wants to be blamed for failure. Somehow it has become more honorable to keep feeding men and women into the VA hospitals than it is to admit the obvious, which is that we lack the will and the brutality to impose our conditions in Afghanistan.

    Do you see now why Obama was absolutely right to step back from Syria?




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  18. Ben Wolf says:

    @michael reynolds: McMaster has been advocating a broadening and deepening of the war since well before Trump arrived on the scene.

    There are only two possibilities for ending this conflict and we’re doing neither.




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  19. RangerDave says:

    @michael reynolds: So long as we reject the sledgehammer in favor of the scalpel, violence won’t work.

    The scalpel approach won’t produce a clear “victory moment” where the enemy fully capitulates and is replaced by a new, US-friendly regime once and for all. But it can at least keep a lid on the level of violence and chaos such that, over time, an organic resolution can gradually be achieved and, in the meantime, the worst horrors can be prevented.




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  20. MarkedMan says:

    @michael reynolds:

    The Nazis were ready to negotiate – right around the time the Red Army reached the Berlin suburbs. The Japanese were ready to negotiate – once we’d burned their cities to ashes.

    I think you have only half the equation here. The Japanese and Nazis were highly regimented societies with clear and accepted, almost worshipped, leadership. We very visibly defeated that leadership in front of the population and replaced them with our own appointees. Next, we implemented what Machiavelli recommended in such situations: we identified the potential ringleaders, and executed them quickly and from that point on took no further punishments on the citizenry.

    Afghanistan doesn’t have a regimented society. They don’t have a clear and accepted leadership. And the potential ringleaders aren’t limited to a relatively tiny number of former military and SS officers, it’s every jumped up criminal gang leader in a country that operates almost entirely on what looks like a gang mentality to a westerner. So there is literally no violence we can perpetrate that will transform them into pliant subjects, much less citizens. The violence that would work there would be what the Chinese are doing in the west or what the Ashantis did to the more coastal tribes, or what the US of a century ago did to the indigenous Americans – take them over, subjugate them, turn them into chattel or worse and fill the lands with the conquering people, constantly kicking them back down, until they disappear from history. Trump, Gorka and Bannon may believe this is the right thing to do, but who in the US is going to move to Afghanistan and become occupiers?




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  21. michael reynolds says:

    @RangerDave:
    That presupposes that 1) we are prepared to outlast people who actually live there, 2) that our staying there advances rather than retards movement toward a more civilized modus vivendi, 3) that even the most optimistic outcome justifies billions of dollars and an unknown number of lives.

    Those are big assumptions.




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  22. michael reynolds says:

    @MarkedMan:

    or what the US of a century ago did to the indigenous Americans – take them over, subjugate them, turn them into chattel or worse and fill the lands with the conquering people, constantly kicking them back down, until they disappear from history.

    Indeed. That’s my point.

    We are the dumb blonde in every horror movie: we smack Jason up against the head with a shovel, and then, rather than continuing to beat him until his head is strawberry jam, we run away. And we are shocked, amazed, when the villain gets up.

    Either be prepared to kill the mother—er or don’t rent a cabin in the woods.




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  23. RangerDave says:

    @michael reynolds: Those are big assumptions.

    No argument there. I’m just saying it’s important to bear in mind that even if ultra-violence is the only way to achieve a definitive “victory moment”, that doesn’t mean it’s the only way to achieve more limited goals.




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  24. CSK says:

    Breaking news: Trump has fired James Comey.




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  25. Dave Schuler says:

    The present objectives cannot be achieved in a reasonable timeframe by any means. Time to get out or change the objective to one we can achieve using measures we’re willing to apply.




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  26. Slugger says:

    Maybe we should change our objectives. Let’s think about stopping the cultivation of opium rather than chasing the Fata Morgana of a military victory. Spraying one of those weed killers that spares grasses lets the Afghans grow wheat. This could solve some big problems in our country and other places where heroin is a scourge.




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