WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is considering sending more than 4,000 additional U.S. troops to the existing 8,400 in Afghanistan, signalling a seismic escalation in the war as the U.S. strives to accelerate the fight against the Taliban and other militant groups, despite being in direct contrast to President Trump’s ‘America First’ agenda.
The Pentagon, which has been delegated unilateral authority by Mr. Trump, and White House officials have been weighing up the expanded operation for several months as they have worked through a strategy review for Afghanistan after years of stagnation.
The new strategy, according four U.S. defense officials, ran by National Security Adviser and former military leader in Afghanistan General HR McMaster, is planned to be presented to Mr. Trump in early July to be approved, a plan that would be another expansion of U.S. missions in Afghanistan.
Mr. Trump railed against a number of wars and promised an ‘America First’ agenda that would diminish U.S. roles in future wars. It remains to be seen whether he will approve this expansion of the war.
The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan General John W. Nicholson Jr. testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee, urging the Trump administration for ‘a few thousand’ more troops as the U.S. are facing a “stalemate”. But a decision to do so has been met with resistance from some members of the administration, who are wary of being dragged back into a fight that could require more forces, firepower and money.
In June 13, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis also told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the U.S. is “not winning” the war in Afghanistan and that he was prepared to take steps to address resurgent Taliban militants after years of reduction in troops by former President Obama.
Mr. Mattis is expected to approve a plan to deploy upwards of 4,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, with some being assigned to the NATO training mission and others to a counter-terror mission.
The U.S. handed over security responsibility to the Afghans in 2014, officially ending American combat missions there. But in June 2016, Mr. Obama approved the American military playing a larger role in supporting the Afghans from the air, authorizing airstrikes against the Taliban to support an Afghan military offensive.