Pentagon reviewing policy on Afghan troop levels ahead of Trump’s strategy announcement

The Pentagon is taking a more deliberate approach to ending the American military presence in Afghanistan than originally planned, POLITICO reported.

The Obama administration had planned to withdraw 9,800 troops from Afghanistan at the end of 2016, but that number was dramatically downgraded to a training mission at the end of last year.

But after taking a beating from President Donald Trump who questioned the strategy to avoid fighting, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford are working to put the administration’s new policy in place on the ground before the administration pulls out an additional 1,000 troops, FOX News reported.

A review of the size of the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan is expected to take three months, but it will not be finalized in the short-term, three U.S. officials said.

The review will take place at Army headquarters at Fort Belvoir, Va., about 25 miles from Washington, one U.S. official said.

The review will also look at troops on the ground and civilian aid that may be used to train Afghan forces, the officials said.

“No decision has been made to have a full withdrawal and no decision has been made to scale down any programs,” Mattis said Friday.

Last November, Mattis changed the pace of the U.S. drawdown from Afghanistan as he grappled with pressure from the president to create a new strategy to fight a resurgent Taliban.

In announcing the new strategy, Mattis had said he wanted the U.S. troop presence to be reduced to just 6,000 American personnel from its current level of about 12,000.

Instead, the remaining 8,400 troops will carry out counterterrorism missions. That’s roughly in line with Obama’s original plan.

Trump’s more aggressive approach to Afghanistan came as he called for a “new strategy” in the 11-year war. Trump has resisted comparisons with Obama, however, noting that it was his administration that first decided on the troop surge three years ago.

An Afghan military official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media said that troops on the ground are waiting to see the new strategy.

“Even though America has already left, we will need many more forces,” the official said.

Gates had told Congress that between nine and 15 years would be needed to fully address Afghanistan’s security problems. Mattis also has warned that it could take 10 years to defeat the Taliban.

Since the 2001 invasion, the U.S. has spent $873 billion there and lost 2,306 U.S. troops in the conflict.

Afghanistan and the Taliban haven’t been able to reach a political settlement and the chances of an abrupt U.S. withdrawal appear slim to none. Afghan officials have been pressing Trump to change his approach. He also needs to show voters that he has succeeded in curbing militant groups, especially al-Qaida and the Islamic State group, who have thrived in Iraq and Syria.

Russia and China, meanwhile, have encouraged Afghanistan’s government to engage in peace talks with the Taliban, even as Trump’s administration ponders its own strategy for dealing with the war.

Russia has opened a new military base in eastern Afghanistan and opened a consulate in Kabul, a decision made in recent months by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Catherine A. Bradley contributed to this report.

Click for more from The Washington Free Beacon.

Leave a Comment