Thursday, February 09, 2017

Congress looking for a Trump war plan for Afghanistan - POLITICO

The Trump administration is a blank slate on the long war in Afghanistan, and key members of Congress are eager for President Donald Trump to consider a new course.

“I want to know why we’re losing, and what we need to do to start winning,” said Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.).

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, testifies before McCain’s committee on Thursday, where he could offer the first clues for the administration’s plans for the 15-year-old war in which 8,400 U.S. troops are still on the ground.

The new president has barely mentioned the war in Afghanistan since taking office — and it was a nonissue during his presidential campaign. Instead, Trump has focused on the fight against the Islamic State with a presidential memorandum calling for an accelerated campaign in Iraq and Syria.

But the landscape in Afghanistan is a struggle for the U.S.-backed Afghan forces that’s turned into a “stalemate,” and some experts say it needs to change.

More than 6,700 Afghan troops were killed in 2016 through Nov. 12 — already surpassing the 6,600 killed in 2015, according to the latest quarterly report from the special inspector general for Afghan reconstruction. The Afghan government controlled 57 percent of the country’s districts in November, according to the inspector general, which is a 6 percent loss since August and a 15 percent drop compared with November 2015.

And suicide bombings have not relented there, including an attack on the Afghanistan Supreme Court on Tuesday that killed nearly two dozen people.

“The situation in Afghanistan is the worst it’s been since 9/11, which is no fault of Gen. Nicholson’s, but the situation is not good,” said Peter Bergen, director of the International Security and Future of War programs at the New America think tank. “This is one of the key national security decisions of the new administration.”

Trump’s comments on Afghanistan during the presidential campaign don’t provide much clarity on his thinking and how it might fit into his “America First” mantra 

So far, Trump has publicly touted his desire to retool the U.S. campaign again the Islamic State, asking the Pentagon for a 30-day review aimed at accelerating that campaign. But he's not asked for a similar plan for Afghanistan. And he did not discuss the war during his speech Monday at the U.S. Central Command in Florida.

Trump has spoken with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. And The Wall Street Journal reported that Trump told him he'd consider sending more troops to bolster the country’s security, citing Afghan officials. Trump is scheduled to speak again with Ghani on Thursday, according to the White House.

The new president’s national security team also has plenty of Afghanistan experience. National security adviser Michael Flynn was director of intelligence in Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who has also spoken by phone with Ghani, commanded Marines in the initial stages of the war and led CENTCOM, which oversees Afghanistan and the rest of the Middle East.

The Pentagon is expected to continue to review the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan, but key lawmakers say that hearing from Trump on the war is what’s most important.

“Obviously, his decisions are going to drive what the policy is,” said Sen. Angus King (I-Maine.), a member of the Armed Services Committee. “At some point, were going to need to understand what his goals and policies are going to be.”

The White House did not respond to a request for comment. And a Pentagon spokesman deferred questions to Nicholson's testimony Thursday. - Read More

Congress looking for a Trump war plan for Afghanistan 


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