Trump likely to announce more troops in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump is taking a turn to address a problem that vexed his two predecessors, detailing his strategy for the war in Afghanistan, America's longest military conflict.

In a prime-time televised speech scheduled for this morning, Singapore time (9pm US Eastern Time on Monday), Mr Trump was expected to announce a modest increase in American troops, as recommended by his senior advisers.

He has long been sceptical of the US approach in the region, where the Afghan war is in its 16th year.

He announced a strategic review soon after taking office in January and has privately questioned whether sending more troops was wise, United States officials said.

"We're not winning," he told advisers last month, questioning whether General John Nicholson, the top US commander in Afghanistan, should be fired, an official said.

Mr Trump reached his decision on Afghanistan after lengthy talks with his top military and national security aides last Friday. A White House statement on Sunday said he would "provide an update on the path forward for America's engagement in Afghanistan and South Asia".

 

A senior administration official said the likeliest outcome was that Mr Trump would agree to a modest increase in US troops. About 8,400 troops are currently stationed there.

The US invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 and overthrew the Islamist Taleban government. But US forces remained bogged down there through the presidencies of Mr George W. Bush, Mr Barack Obama and now Mr Trump.

"I took over a mess, and we're going to make it a lot less messy," Mr Trump said earlier this month.

US military and intelligence officials are concerned that a Taleban victory would allow Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria's regional affiliate to establish bases in Afghanistan from which to plot attacks against the US and its allies.

One reason the White House decision has taken so long, two officials said, is that it was difficult to get Mr Trump to accept the need for a broader regional strategy that included US policy towards Pakistan.

The difficulty in reaching a decision was compounded, the two officials said, by the conflicting options Mr Trump received.

White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster and others favoured Gen Nicholson's request for 4,000 additional US troops.

But recently ousted White House strategic adviser Stephen Bannon had argued for the withdrawal of all US forces, saying that after 16 years, the war was still not winnable.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 22, 2017, with the headline 'Trump likely to announce more troops in Afghanistan'. Print Edition | Subscribe