Defense Secretary Jim Mattis confirmed Sunday that a decision has been made on a military strategy in Afghanistan, where more than 8,000 troops already are based in the longest-running war in U.S. history.
Speaking to reporters on a military plane en route to meetings in Jordan, Mattis said it is up to President Donald Trump to announce the details of a review of U.S. policy in Afghanistan and South Asia. The results have been delayed amid concerns that, more than 15 years after the United States invaded, an international coalition working together with Afghan forces are not winning the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaida.
“I am very comfortable that the strategic process was sufficiently rigorous and did not go in with a preset position,” Mattis told reporters. “The president has made a decision. As he said, he wants to be the one to announce it to the American people.”
On Friday, Trump met at Camp David to discuss Afghanistan strategy with more than a dozen aides, including Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, national security adviser H.R. McMaster and Vice President Pence. After the briefing, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump was “studying and considering his options.” Then Trump tweeted Saturday that at Camp David, “many decisions [were] made, including on Afghanistan.”
A variety of options have been under consideration, including sending about 3,800 more troops to augment the 8,400 already there to train and assist local forces. Another option Mattis has mentioned is to replace U.S. troops with private contractors.
But any proposal to reinforce the U.S. presence there is certain to meet resistance.
Sen. Benjamin Cardin of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on “Fox News Sunday” that he will oppose sending more troops.
“I don’t believe putting more American soldiers in Afghanistan is the answer,” he said, arguing that a stable government in the country should be the goal.
Trump has given Mattis authority to set troop levels in the country, but Mattis has been waiting for Trump to decide a strategic focus before he sends any more troops.
Trump has expressed frustration over the lack of a clear way forward as the war drags into its 16th year. After the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center in 2001, the United States sent in troops to oust the Taliban government because it sheltered the operation’s mastermind, Osama bin Laden. At a Senate hearing in June, Mattis acknowledged, “We are not winning in Afghanistan right now.”
The policy review was expected to be completed weeks ago, and the delay underscores how difficult the decision has been. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said Sunday that many lawmakers have withheld any judgment on troop levels until they hear the administration’s strategy.
“The troop strength question is sort of the cart before the horse,” Kaine told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “The real question is what is our strategy? And then when you lay out the strategy, the troop strength question can kind of answer itself.”
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Carol Morello