Monday 23 April 2018

Officials say Trump will send 3,900 troops to Afghanistan

US President Donald Trump. Photo: AP
US President Donald Trump. Photo: AP

Lolita C Baldor and Matthew Pennington

US President Donald Trump's plan to end the stalemate in America's longest war and eliminate Afghanistan's rising extremist threat involves sending up to 3,900 additional US forces, senior officials said yesterday.

The first deployments could take place within days.

In a national address on Monday night, Mr Trump had reversed his past calls for a speedy exit and recommitted the US to the 16-year conflict, saying troops must "fight to win". He warned against the mistakes made in Iraq, where an American military withdrawal led to a vacuum that Isil quickly filled.

Mr Trump would not confirm how many more service members he plans to send to Afghanistan, which may be the public's most pressing question about his strategy. In interviews with television networks yesterday, Vice President Mike Pence similarly wouldn't give any clear answer. Instead, he cited Pentagon plans from June, calling for 3,900 more troops.

"The troop levels are significant, and we'll listen to our military commanders about that," Mr Pence said. "And the president will make that decision in the days ahead."

US officials said there was no fixed number. But they said the Pentagon has told Mr Trump it needs that many fresh forces in addition to the roughly 8,400 Americans in the country to accomplish Mr Trump's objectives of "obliterating Isil, crushing al-Qa'ida, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan and stopping mass terror attacks against America before they emerge".

The 3,900 figure includes a combination of trainers, security forces and other support troops, according to the officials, who weren't authorised to publicly discuss details about the military planning and spoke on condition of anonymity. The exact number of arriving forces can vary as conditions change. Defence Secretary Jim Mattis also declined to confirm an exact number, saying he was waiting for more input from Gen Joseph Dunford, America's top military official. Mr Mattis said he will "reorganise" some US troops in Afghanistan to reflect the new strategy.

The top US commander for the Middle East said he expects the first reinforcements to arrive "pretty quickly", within days or weeks.

"What's most important for us now is to get some capabilities in to have an impact on the current fighting season," Gen Joseph Votel, who spent last weekend in Afghanistan, told reporters traveling with him to Saudi Arabia yesterday.

Before he was a presidential candidate, Mr Trump ardently argued for a quick withdrawal from Afghanistan and called the war a massive waste of US "blood and treasure". On Monday, he suggested an open-ended commitment rather than a "time-based" approach.

"Conditions on the ground - not arbitrary timetables - will guide our strategy from now on," Mr Trump said.

At its peak involvement in 2010-2011, the US had roughly 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. Former president Barack Obama then started bringing them home, drawing criticism.

Irish Independent

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