Trump makes no decision on Afghanistan
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[August 19, 2017]
By Steve Holland and Jonathan Landay
HAGERSTOWN, Md./WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S.
President Donald Trump reviewed an array of options for a strategy on
Afghanistan with his top national security aides, but made no decision
on whether he would commit more troops to America's longest war.
Friday's meeting was the latest in a series of high-level discussions on
Afghanistan and a broader security strategy for the South Asia region
that has been bogged down by internal differences.
Trump was briefed extensively "on a new strategy to protect America's
interests in South Asia", White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told
reporters, after the meeting at the Camp David Maryland retreat.
"The president is studying and considering his options and will make an
announcement to the American people, to our allies and partners, and to
the world at the appropriate time," Sanders said.
National security adviser H.R. McMaster and other top national security
officials went into the meeting backing a modest increase in troops. At
a mid-July meeting, they had thrown their weight behind 3,000 to 5,000
additional U.S. and coalition soldiers.
“Anti-globalists,” who were led by Steve Bannon before he was fired on
Friday as Trump's chief strategist, backed withdrawing U.S. forces, U.S.
Other options which were to be discussed included keeping the status quo
of some 8,400 U.S. troops, a modest hike, or a small reduction that
would focus on counter-terrorism operations enhanced by drone strikes
and intelligence-gathering, they said.
A U.S. official said that during a trip to Afghanistan earlier this
year, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told Afghan President Ashraf Ghani
that the United States would have a sustained commitment to Afghanistan.
More than 15 years since the United States invaded Afghanistan and
toppled the Islamist Taliban government for giving al Qaeda a sanctuary
where it plotted the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, there is no sign to an end
U.S. intelligence agencies assessed in May that the conditions in
Afghanistan will almost certainly deteriorate through next year, even
with a modest increase in military assistance from America and its
Senator Lindsey Graham, a senior Republican and advocate of a stronger
U.S. role in Afghanistan, urged Trump in a statement to "listen to his
generals. At the end of the day, Afghanistan is about American homeland
security - not building empires."
The Camp David discussions have also been complicated by differences
over taking a harder line on Pakistan for failing to close Afghan
Taliban sanctuaries and arrest Afghan extremist leaders. U.S. officials
say the Afghan Taliban are supported by elements of Pakistan’s military
and top intelligence agency, a charge Islamabad denies.
Under one proposal, the United States would begin a review of whether to
designate Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism unless it pursues senior
leaders of the Afghan Taliban and the allied Haqqani network, considered
the most lethal Afghan extremist group, U.S. officials said.
[to top of second column]
President Donald Trump returns a salute as he steps from Air Force
One, en route to nearby Camp David to meet with the National
Security Council to try to agree on a strategy for Afghanistan, in
Hagerstown, Maryland, U.S., August 18, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Such a designation would trigger harsh U.S. sanctions, including a
ban on arms sales and an end to U.S. economic assistance.
Finalizing a regional security strategy has been held up by Trump's
frustration with a lack of options for defeating the Taliban and
ending the longest foreign conflict in U.S. history.
At the meeting in mid-July, Trump said Mattis and Marine General
Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, should
consider firing Army General John Nicholson, commander of U.S.
forces in Afghanistan, for not winning the war.
The delay for a decision left an opening for Erik Prince, the
founder of the former Blackwater military contracting firm and the
brother of Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, to propose
replacing U.S. forces in Afghanistan with mercenaries.
The plan made its way into the White House, according to a senior
There is no indication, however, that the proposal – promoted by
Prince in media interviews – garnered serious attention and it was
not among the options prepared for consideration at Camp David, said
the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
McMaster, Mattis, Dunford and retired Marine General John Kelly, the
president’s chief of staff, are opposed to this plan, according to
It was not known whether Prince's proposal was brought up at the
With Afghan security forces struggling to prevent Taliban advances
and the country’s political leadership all but paralyzed by
infighting, Nicholson in February requested thousands of additional
U.S. troops to bolster U.S. military trainers, advisers and special
U.S. military and intelligence officials are concerned that a
Taliban victory would allow al Qaeda and Islamic State’s regional
affiliate to establish bases in Afghanistan from which to plot
attacks against the United States and its allies.
(Reporting by Steve Holland and Jonathan Landay; Additional
reporting by Idrees Ali and John Walcott in Washington; Editing by
Yara Bayoumy and Alistair Bell)
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