Trump To Set Out 'Path Foward' On Afghanistan
RFE/RL August 21, 2017
The White House says U.S. President Donald Trump will deliver a major address to the nation on August 21 to explain "the path forward for America's engagement in Afghanistan and South Asia."
The statement said Trump will make the speech at the Fort Myer military base near Washington and it will be televised at 9 p.m. local time (0100 GMT/UTC on August 22).
Hours ahead of Trump's speech, a rocket exploded in the the diplomatic district of Afghanistan's capital, Kabul, local police said.
The options that have been considered by U.S. leaders range from pulling out of the country entirely to sending more troops and stepping up efforts to defeat the Taliban and other militants battling the Afghan government.
Some speculation has centered on the possibility of substituting paid contractors for U.S. service personnel to battle the Taliban, although most officials have dismissed that option.
Speaking on August 20 to reporters during a trip to Jordan, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that Trump has agreed with military leaders on a new strategy for Afghanistan after "rigorous" debate. He declined to provide details.
"The president has made a decision. As he said, he wants to be the one to announce it to the American people," Mattis said.
He said that "everyone who had equity was heard," including budget officials responsible for funding any possible changes.
"I'm very comfortable that the strategic process was sufficiently rigorous, and did not go in with a preset condition in terms of what questions could be asked and what decisions could be made," Mattis said.
Trump met on August 18 with his national security team at the Camp David presidential retreat to discuss the conflict in Afghanistan.
A White House statement following the meeting said Trump had been briefed on "a new strategy" but that no decisions had been made.
"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," press secretary Sarah Sanders said.
General John Nicholson, the top U.S. Army commander in Afghanistan, speaking before the White House announcement, signaled his belief in a long-term U.S. commitment during a ceremony to inaugurate a new Afghan special operations unit.
"I assure you we are with you in this fight. We are with you and we will stay with you," he said at Camp Morehead, a training site for Afghan commandos southeast of Kabul.
There are about 8,400 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and some 5,000 troops from other NATO member and partner countries.
A senior administration official told Reuters news agency that the likeliest outcome was that Trump would agree to a modest increase in U.S. troops as recommended by his top advisers.
Media reports have indicated that the U.S. military has requested 3,000 to 5,000 additional troops.
A top U.S. military officer in Kabul told the Associated Press that increasing the number of troops would allow the U.S. military to send additional advisers or provide air support to two battlefields simultaneously. Currently, the official said, they can only do so for one operation at a time.
Colonel Abdul Mahfuz, an Afghan intelligence agency official, said a withdrawal of U.S. forces "would be a total failure."
U.S.-backed forces have been in Afghanistan since invading following the September 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States carried out by Al-Qaeda militants, whose leaders were being harbored by the Taliban-led government.
The coalition drove the Taliban from power, but the militant group has been resurgent in recent years and controls large portions of the country.
On August 21, Afghan officials said heavy clashes were under way between security forces and Taliban fighters in the northern province of Jawzjan.
Provincial police chief General Rahmatullah Turkistani said the militants launched an attack in Khamab district to try capture the district headquarters.
Some unconfirmed reports claimed that the Taliban had seized control of the district headquarters.
Just hours before Trump's address, a rocket landed and exploded in Kabul's diplomatic district, police said, setting off alarms and sirens at foreign embassies. NATO's headquarters of operations in Afghanistan is also located in the area.
The blast was preceded by "incoming" announcements, often used by the U.S. Embassy to warn of imminent rocket attacks.
"A rocket has landed on the football field in Wazir Akbar Khan," a police officer told the media. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
Pakistan: 'Let It Come'
Meanwhile, Pakistan's military brushed off reports that the new strategy for Afghanistan could include taking a stronger line against Islamabad, insisting the country has done all it can to tackle militancy.
Some decision makers in Washington believe Pakistan has not done enough to persuade the Afghan Taliban to renounce violence, and doubt its willingness to tackle the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network, based in the tribal areas between the two countries.
The Haqqani network has long been suspected of having ties to Pakistan's military establishment.
However, a Pakistani military spokesman said on August 21 that no group had been spared in ongoing offensives against militants, telling the media in Rawalpindi that "there is no organized infrastructure of any terrorist organization in Pakistan."
"Let it come," army spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor told reporters, referring to Trump's decision. "Even if it comes...Pakistan shall do whatever is best in the national interest."
The U.S. Defense Department withheld $50 million in aid to the Pakistani military after Mattis determined Islamabad was not doing enough to counter the Haqqanis.
With reporting by AFP, dpa, Reuters, The Washington Post, AP, and Khaama Press
Copyright (c) 2017. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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