President Donald Trump is deciding between two rival ideas – one more “kinetic” and the other “less kinetic” – for U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, according to a senior White House official.
On one side are the military strategists, who favor a robust U.S. military approach to resolving the 16-year-old Afghanistan war – hitting the Taliban harder and pressuring them back to the negotiating table. It would also include more spending on building the Afghan government’s capacity, and entail more overall funding, troops, and resources.
On the other side are those who want to maintain the current level of troops but limit U.S. involvement in the war. That option would leave it up to the Afghan government and the Taliban to resolve the conflict, but assist the Afghan government with a minimal train-and-advise mission, also known as “foreign internal defense,” and assist local partners in fighting extremist ideology. It would also include a counterterrorism presence to target high-value targets. It would take notably longer than the kinetic plan but would be significantly cheaper.
“We don’t fight other people’s wars,” the official said. “We help our friends fight their own wars for themselves.”
Earlier this week, details of the more kinetic option leaked to the Washington Post. It would consist of an addition of at least 3,000 more U.S. troops, and be matched by an increase in NATO forces. It would also loosen military restrictions in fighting the Taliban, and allow the Pentagon, instead of the White House, to determine how many troops are needed and where. It would bring the current number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to at least 11,400.
That plan has drawn support from defense hawks on Capitol Hill and the Republican foreign policy establishment in Washington.
“We need to break what has been described by our commander there as a ‘stalemate’, which is, after 15 years or so, an unacceptable situation that requires a new strategy, one for victory,” said Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-AZ).
But the plan has drawn skepticism from those inside the White House who favor winding down the U.S. presence and argue that more troops won’t resolve the war. The Obama administration’s 2009 “surge” sent 30,000 troops to Afghanistan in order to pressure the Taliban to come to the negotiating table, but once the administration began to draw down the U.S. presence, the gains reversed.