Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Team Trump is leaning toward a new Afghan surge

President Trump will soon have to decide what to do about Afghanistan. After weeks of wrangling inside his national security cabinet, top officials on Friday agreed on the broad outlines of a strategy to prosecute America’s longest war. The interventionists prevailed.

According to administration officials familiar with the deliberations of the cabinet’s principals committee, the Afghanistan strategy would tie the United States to the success of President Ashraf Ghani’s ambitious plan to build up an inclusive government and regain territory from the Taliban.

While the strategy envisions eventually forging a peace deal with the Taliban, in the meantime it would increase the pace of strikes — to encourage the Taliban to negotiate.

The new strategy, according to these officials, is not cheap. There would be a baseline of at least $23 billion a year to support a variety of initiatives in Afghanistan, not only subsidizing Afghan police and military forces but also funding anti-corruption programs and other priorities.

If that sounds expensive, bear in mind the untold costs if the United States instead failed to support Afghanistan’s recovery and the country became a safe haven for terrorists like it was before 9/11.

While no troop numbers have been set, US officials told me they would envision an increase in both US and NATO forces inside the country.

Most important, the strategy would jettison President Barack Obama’s approach of setting arbitrary deadlines for the withdrawal of US forces and instead would link the participation of US troops inside the country to meeting clear conditions on the battlefield, such as winning back territory from the Taliban and denying safe haven to al Qaeda, the Islamic State and other bad actors, according to these officials.

By the end of Obama’s presidency, he had blown through his own deadlines for withdrawing troops from the country as the Taliban and other terror groups grew stronger.

A similar dynamic has played out inside the Trump national security team. Throughout the deliberations, some officials raised concern that the plan would be throwing good money after bad, according to the US officials.

This worry is not without basis. The US special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction wrote in January that: “Afghanistan suffers from limited institutional capacity to conduct basic governmental functions, and from widespread and systemic corruption that consistently places it near the bottom of international rankings for public perception of corruption.”

Another fear raised at Friday’s meeting was that the strategy would be committing the US to a role in Afghanistan for the next several years. The view of the national security adviser, General H.R. McMaster, prevailed.

On Friday, none of those in the meeting objected to going forward with the more ambitious strategy. McMaster argued, according to these sources, that Trump should not make the same mistake Obama made by exiting Iraq too soon and allowing the Islamic State the room to regenerate and force another US intervention later.

A strategy paper reflecting the consensus of the meeting on Friday is now being worked over by regional experts at the policy coordination committee and is expected to be sent to the president’s desk as early as this week. 

Still, an American recommitment to Afghanistan now can avoid past mistakes. If there has been one lesson from recent US interventions, it is that premature exits are costly. Sooner or later, America gets drawn back into the wars it had hoped were over.- More, nypost

Team Trump is leaning toward a new Afghan surge


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