After already escalating the fight in Afghanistan last month by dropping its GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb (MOAB or “mother of all bombs”), the largest non-nuclear bomb in the U.S. arsenal, and engaging in a 3-hour gunfight this past weekend that resulted in the death of ISIS leader Sheikh Abdul Hasib, Trump is apparently considering whether to once again expand U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.
According to the Washington Post, the new plan, which still needs the approval of the president, calls for expanding the U.S. military role as part of a broader effort to push an increasingly confident and resurgent Taliban back to the negotiating table, U.S. officials said.
The plan comes at the end of a sweeping policy review built around the president’s desire to reverse worsening security in Afghanistan and “start winning” again, said one U.S. official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
The new strategy, which has the backing of top Cabinet officials, would authorize the Pentagon, not the White House, to set troop numbers in Afghanistan and give the military far broader authority to use airstrikes to target Taliban militants. It would also lift Obama-era restrictions that limited the mobility of U.S. military advisers on the battlefield.
Trump is expected to make a final call on the strategy before a May 25 NATO summit in Brussels that he plans to attend.
According to WaPo’s reporting, the proposal to send more troops into Afghanistan is being led by Trump’s new National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, which is adding to the White House tensions between Steve Bannon and the more ‘globalist’ elements of the administration.
Even as it moves to the president’s desk, the proposal faces resistance from some senior administration officials who fear a repeat of earlier decisions to intensify military efforts that produced only temporary improvements.
Inside the White House, those opposed to the plan have begun to refer derisively to the strategy as “McMaster’s War,” a reference to H.R. McMaster, the president’s national security adviser. The general, who once led anti-corruption efforts in Afghanistan and was one of the architects of President George W. Bush’s troop surge in Iraq, is the driving force behind the new strategy at the White House.
Meanwhile, reports are also surfacing that Trump himself is growing increasingly frustrated with McMaster. Per Bloomberg:
For the Washington establishment, President Donald Trump’s decision to make General H.R. McMaster his national security adviser in February was a masterstroke. Here is a well-respected defense intellectual, praised by both parties, lending a steady hand to a chaotic White House. The grown-ups are back.
But inside the White House, the McMaster pick has not gone over well with the one man who matters most. White House officials tell me Trump himself has clashed with McMaster in front of his staff.
On policy, the faction of the White House loyal to senior strategist Steve Bannon is convinced McMaster is trying to trick the president into the kind of nation building that Trump campaigned against. Meanwhile the White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, is blocking McMaster on a key appointment.
McMaster’s allies and adversaries inside the White House tell me that Trump is disillusioned with him. This professional military officer has failed to read the president — by not giving him a chance to ask questions during briefings, at times even lecturing Trump.
Presented with the evidence of this buyer’s remorse, the White House on Sunday evening issued a statement from Trump: “I couldn’t be happier with H.R. He’s doing a terrific job.”
The plan envisions an increase of at least 3,000 U.S. troops to an existing force of about 8,400. The U.S. force would also be bolstered by requests for matching troops from NATO nations.
But, in keeping with the Trump administration’s desire to empower military decision-making, the Pentagon would have final say on troop levels and how those forces are employed on the battlefield. The plan would also increase spending on Afghanistan’s troubled government in an effort to improve its capacity.
The additional troops and aid spending would add to the fiscal toll of a war that already costs $23 billion annually, a factor Trump advisers expect will weigh heavily in the president’s consideration of additional military actions.
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