'Rigorous' Debate Led To New U.S. Strategy For Afghanistan, Mattis Says
RFE/RL August 21, 2017
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis confirmed that President Donald Trump has agreed with military leaders on a new strategy for Afghanistan after "rigorous" debate, but he declined to provide details.
Mattis, speaking on August 20 to reporters during a trip to Jordan, 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," he said.
"The president has made a decision. As he said, he wants to be the one to announce it to the American people."
His comments came hours after the White House announced that Trump will make 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.
The options being considered by U.S. leaders range from pulling out of the country totally to increasing U.S. efforts to defeat the Taliban militant group that is 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.
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.
With reporting by AFP, dpa, Reuters, The Washington Post, and AP
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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