Proposal to beef up US anti-Taleban efforts in Afghanistan

Afghan security officials during an operation against ISIS in Nangarhar province. Washington may adopt a new strategy in Afghanistan amid worries that the stalemate with the Taleban has been steadily eroding for years, endangering a key US base for c
Afghan security officials during an operation against ISIS in Nangarhar province. Washington may adopt a new strategy in Afghanistan amid worries that the stalemate with the Taleban has been steadily eroding for years, endangering a key US base for combating militant groups.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Trump advisers weigh sending more troops to push resurgent militants back to negotiations

WASHINGTON • President Donald 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 Taleban.

The new plan, which still must be approved by the President, calls for expanding the American military role as part of a broader effort to push an increasingly confident and resurgent Taleban back to the negotiating table, according to US officials.

The plan comes at the end of a sweeping policy review built around Mr Trump's desire to reverse the worsening security situation in Afghanistan and "start winning" again, said one US official who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The new strategy, which has the backing of top Cabinet officials, would authorise the Pentagon, not the White House, to set troop numbers in Afghanistan and give the military far broader authority to use air strikes to target Taleban militants. It would also lift Obama-era restrictions that limited the mobility of US military advisers on the battlefield.

The net result of the changes would be to reverse moves taken by former president Barack Obama to steadily limit the US military role in Afghanistan, along with the risk to American troops and the cost of the war effort, more than 15 years after US forces first arrived there.

Mr Trump is expected to make a final call on the strategy before a May 25 Nato summit in Brussels that he plans to attend.

Officials said it is unclear whether President Trump, who has spoken little about the US' longest war, will look favourably upon expanding the country's role in Afghanistan. While he has voiced scepticism about allowing American troops to become bogged down in foreign conflicts, Mr Trump has also expressed a desire to be tough on terrorism and has seemed to delight in the use of military force.

Mr Andrew Wilder, an Afghanistan expert at the US Institute of Peace, said: "The review is an opportunity to send a message that, yes, the US is going to send more troops, but it's not to achieve a forever military victory. Rather, it's to try to bring about a negotiated end to this conflict."

The new strategy is a product of the US military's mounting worry that the fragile stalemate with the Taleban has been steadily eroding for years, jeopardising the survival of an allied government and endangering a key US base for combating militant groups such as Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) throughout South Asia.

The plan envisions an increase of at least 3,000 US troops to an existing force of about 8,400. The US 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 extra troops and aid spending would add to the fiscal toll of a war that already costs US$23 billion (S$32 billion) annually, a factor that Mr Trump's advisers expect will weigh heavily in the President's consideration of additional military actions.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 10, 2017, with the headline 'Proposal to beef up US anti-Taleban efforts in Afghanistan'. Print Edition | Subscribe