Thursday, February 08, 2018

Trump officials defend Afghanistan policy before skeptical senators - abcnews

Sixteen years into America’s longest war - and six months into President Donald Trump’s new Afghanistan policy - top officials with the Pentagonand State Department could not tell Congress Tuesday how many fighters the Taliban has, how many ISIS terrorists are in Afghanistan, or whether there’s any clear evidence that the Trump strategy is working.

The officials faced questions before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“We’ll know more when the fighting picks up in the traditional fighting season,” said Randall G. Schriver, Assistant Secretary for Asian and Pacific Affairs at the Department of Defense, referring to the weeks during April when Taliban fighters who lie low during the winter months come out to fight.

“We’re in Afghanistan … to protect Americans,” Schriver assured the committee. “We seek to drive the Taliban to the understanding that they will not achieve their objectives on the battlefield or through violence.”

U.S., NATO and Afghan forces have been hitting various targets through the winter, including dropping a record 24 precision-guided bombs from B-52 bombers in Badakhshan province over just four days, the officials said.

But senators from both parties were deeply skeptical.

“After 16 years, thousands of lives, and probably a trillion dollars spent, the Afghans don’t seem to be ready to defend themselves,” said Senator Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, a longtime critic of the war. “People say if we left the Taliban would take over tomorrow. When is enough, enough?”

“What is the end state that U.S. and NATO troops are fighting for?” asked Senator Ben Cardin, the committee’s ranking Democrat. “We’ve been there for 16 years. Should the American people simply accept that this is an endless war?”

“I don’t think there is a rosy situation in Kabul,” admitted Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan. “The attacks last month were a real shock. There is no doubt that there is a serious challenge we face in Afghanistan. One option is simply to withdraw, we decided we could not do that.”

“They’re gaining ground, they’re creating chaos, they’re getting through a perimeter and blowing up an international hotel,” said Senator Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., referring to the brutal January assault on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul that left 21 dead. - Read More

Trump officials defend Afghanistan policy before skeptical senators ...


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