Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
August 18, 2017
U.S. President Donald Trump is due to meet with his national security team at the Camp David presidential retreat north of Washington on August 18 to discuss U.S. strategy in Afghanistan and South Asia.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on August 17 that, after months of debate, the Trump administration has almost reached a decision on a new approach for fighting the 16-year-old war in Afghanistan, which is the longest in American history.
In remarks at the State Department, Mattis told reporters the talks “will move this toward a decision.” He gave no hint of what the strategy would look like, but said it would take shape “in the very near future.”
In June, Trump gave Mattis the authority to set U.S. troop levels.
Media reports say Mattis has recommended an increase of up to 4,000 troops to help strengthen the Afghan Army, but nothing has as yet been approved by Trump.
Mattis is reportedly urging Trump to address the Afghan war as part of a broader strategy for the region, particularly including Pakistan, where some Afghan militant groups have established bases near the border.
Western media outlets have reported that in July, Trump expressed frustration with progress in the war against Taliban militants and told Mattis and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford that they should consider firing General John Nicholson, the top U.S. Army commander in Afghanistan.
Citing officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, media reports also said Trump argued that the United States should demand a share of Afghanistan’s estimated $1 trillion in mineral wealth in exchange for U.S. assistance to the Afghan government.
Reports said that Trump complained that the Chinese are profiting from mining operations in Afghanistan while the United States bears the cost of the war.
After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, a U.S.-led invasion drove the Taliban from power in Afghanistan. But since the exit of most NATO troops in 2014, Afghanistan’s U.S.-backed government has lost ground to the Taliban insurgency.
A U.S. report found earlier this year that the Taliban controls or contests control of about 40 percent of the country. Furthermore, Afghan security forces are facing the increasing presence of the extremist group Islamic State in the country.
Since peaking at about 100,000 troops in 2010-2011, the U.S. force has diminished. The United States currently maintains 8,400 troops in Afghanistan — a cap set last year by then-President Barack Obama.
However, there are at least another 2,000 U.S. troops — mostly special forces — assigned to fight militant groups such as the Taliban and Islamic State.
About 5,000 non-U.S. NATO forces are still in the country.
With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and AP
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