The Central Intelligence Agency's paramilitary branch is stepping up its covert attacks in Afghanistan, deploying small groups of officers and contractors to hunt and kill Taliban militants alongside Afghan commandos, two senior American officials tell The New York Times. The CIA had been focusing its Afghanistan efforts on battling al Qaeda and aiding the Afghan intelligence service, but President Trump and his CIA director, Mike Pompeo, appear to want the agency to play a more aggressive role in the world.
The CIA, with only hundreds of paramilitary officers spread around the world, "has traditionally been resistant to an open-ended campaign against the Taliban, the primary militant group in Afghanistan, believing it was a waste of the agency's time and money and would put officers at greater risk," The New York Times reports. "Former agency officials assert that the military, with its vast resources and manpower, is better suited to conducting large-scale counterinsurgencies." The apparent end goal of killing lower-level Taliban militants is convincing the Taliban to come to the negotiating table. You can read more at The New York Times. Peter Weber
While President Trump's speech on his way forward in the Afghanistan War received mixed praise at home, the Afghanistan government deemed it a "10 out of 10" on Tuesday, The Associated Press reports. Afghan Ambassador to the U.S. Hamdullah Mohib said his fellow countrymen had heard "exactly what we needed to" from Trump and the U.S.
Trump on Monday said the United States military is "not nation-building again. We are killing terrorists." He additionally did not set a timetable for withdrawing troops, instead using a conditions-based approach, and he decided against further revealing the number of troops on the ground in the country or announcing upcoming military actions.
Mohib also praised Trump's decision to "[break] the silence" on Pakistan. Trump claimed the country has "much to gain" by working with the U.S. in Afghanistan, and "much to lose by continuing to harbor criminals and terrorists."
At The Week, Damon Linker writes that Trump's speech commits "the United States to a few more years of madness in Afghanistan" and David Faris claims "in all likelihood, we are headed toward another disastrous troop surge that will end the way every previous attempt to 'win' in Afghanistan has ended: in failure." Jeva Lange
In a nationally televised address on Monday night, President Trump will lay out his new strategy for the war in Afghanistan, and the strategy is expected to include sending "several thousand" more U.S. troops to aid in the 16-year war, The New York Times reports. Trump announced that he had completed his strategic review on Saturday morning, and on Sunday night, Defense Secretary James Mattis told reporters that Trump has "made a decision," adding, "I am very comfortable that the strategic process was sufficiently rigorous and did not go in with a preset position."
There are currently about 8,400 U.S. troops in Afghanistan as part of the 13,000-strong NATO force that's training and advising the Afghan military, plus another 2,000 or so U.S. troops conducting counterterrorism operations against Taliban, al Qaeda, and Islamic State militants. Trump gave Mattis the authority in June to deploy up to 3,900 more troops to Afghanistan, but Mattis has declined to do so without a broader strategy in place.
The president has been working on his Afghanistan strategy for months, as former President Barack Obama did when he took office. Trump was inconsistent during the campaign on what he thought the U.S. should do about Afghanistan, and he has considered pulling out as president, because, as he noted in 2013, the war is very expensive.
I agree with Pres. Obama on Afghanistan. We should have a speedy withdrawal. Why should we keep wasting our money -- rebuild the U.S.!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 14, 2013
But Trump has told advisers he's been shown maps of Afghanistan from 2014 and 2017, and the Taliban's presence in the country (indicated in red) had grown from a little bit to more than half the map today, reports Jonathan Swan at Axios, adding: "Trump has been reluctantly open to the generals' opinion and I'm told he doesn't want to be the president who loses the country to the terrorists." At the same time, GOP strategist Ron Bonjean tells The Washington Post, Trump's "address is designed to turn the page from the Charlottesville chaos and remind voters that Trump is commander in chief and has made an informed and responsible decision." The speech, from Fort Meyers in Virginia, will be at 9 p.m. EST, during a town hall House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will be conducting through CNN. Peter Weber
The Trump administration is considering handing the Afghanistan war off to 5,500 private contractors
The Trump administration is reportedly considering hiring 5,500 private contractors to accelerate the conclusion of the 16-year-long war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, USA Today reports. The proposal comes amid reports that the White House is stumped on how to proceed in the conflict, which spanned two presidencies before landing in President Trump's lap.
The proposal is "unprecedented," USA Today writes, with Blackwater founder Erik Prince explaining that the thousands of new private contractors would phase out the U.S. military troops advising Afghan forces in the country. The contractors would serve as "adjuncts" of the national forces, wearing the Afghan military uniform. The plan would also involve a 90-plane private air force that would only operate with the local government's approval.
Concerns about the plan have been raised by Trump's national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, and his defense secretary, Jim Mattis, USA Today reports. Chief strategist Stephen Bannon approves of the proposal. Prince is the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
"At what point do you say a conventional military approach in Afghanistan is not working?" Prince asked. "Maybe we say that at 16 years."
The White House is reportedly considering the possibility of withdrawing "most" American forces from Afghanistan as President Trump's advisers struggle to reach an agreement about how to proceed in the 16-year-old conflict, The Wall Street Journal reports. "It is becoming clearer and clearer to people that those are the options: Go forward with something like the strategy we have developed, or withdraw," one senior administration official said.
There are more than 8,400 American troops in Afghanistan, and talk of sending up to 3,900 more has failed to move forward. Many U.S. military leaders disagree with any plan to reduce troops, claiming that American soldiers are needed to prevent the Taliban from increasing its influence in the region. Yet Defense Secretary James Mattis has noted that America is "not winning" and experts say the addition of a few thousand more troops is not likely to end the Afghanistan war, even as "Trump ran for president saying he'd end foreign entanglements," Politico writes.
"It's a macro question as to whether the U.S., this administration, and this president are committed to staying," the administration official added to The Wall Street Journal. "It doesn't work unless we are there for a long time, and if we don't have the appetite to be there a long time, we should just leave." Jeva Lange
With little fanfare, the Trump administration announced last week its plans to send several thousand more troops to Afghanistan to join the 8,400 already stationed in the country. Yet "the White House played down the Pentagon's vaguely worded statement, which referred only to setting 'troop levels' as a stopgap measure — a tacit admission of the administration's internal conflicts over what to do about the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan," The New York Times writes.
Experts say the addition of a few thousand more troops is not likely to end the Afghanistan war, which has now spanned three presidencies, even as "Trump ran for president saying he'd end foreign entanglements," Politico writes. Trump, though, is not calling the shots: He notably delegated the decision to his defense secretary, James Mattis.
But "it's clear that the U.S. cannot win this war militarily," Michael Kugelman of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, told The Washington Post. "The Taliban insurgency seems to strengthen by the day, the Islamic State remains resilient, public anger is building [and] Afghan troops are turning on their American trainers."
Mattis agrees the United States is "not winning," but he told the Senate Armed Services Committee "we will correct this as soon as possible." A strategy, he said, could be expected next month. Jeva Lange
The Trump administration has reportedly chosen to send an additional 4,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan, a decision made just days after President Trump authorized Defense Secretary James Mattis to autonomously decide troop levels in the country, The Associated Press reports. An official announcement is expected as early as next week, although Pentagon representatives say a decision hasn't been made yet.
"The United States knows we are in the fight against terrorism," said Afghanistan's defense ministry secretary Daulat Waziri. "We want to finish this war in Afghanistan with the help of the NATO alliance."
The Afghanistan War has now spanned three presidencies, although "Trump ran for president saying he'd end foreign entanglements," Politico points out. The U.S. and NATO allies invaded Afghanistan in late 2001 to oust the Taliban, which had sheltered the al Qaeda perpetrators of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. In 2009, under former President Barack Obama, around 100,000 U.S. troops were fighting in the country. Today, some 13,000 U.S. and NATO troops remain fighting the Taliban, al Qaeda, and the Islamic State, mostly by advising embattled Afghan forces.
Not everyone agrees the additional troops will help. "The security situation continues to deteriorate in Afghanistan and the foreign troops who are here are not making it better," said Afghan lawmaker Nasrullah Sadeqizada. Jeva Lange
President Trump is the commander-in-chief of the U.S. armed forces, but he's increasingly letting his defense secretary, retired Gen. James Mattis, run America's wars. Following his decision in April to give Mattis authority to decide troop levels in Iraq and Syria, Trump extended that authority to the war in Afghanistan on Tuesday, The New York Times reports. The White House is expected to announce the decision on Wednesday, a U.S. official tells The Wall Street Journal. Trump has also handed Mattis broad authority over strikes in Yemen and Somalia.
The U.S. and NATO allies invaded Afghanistan in late 2001 to oust the Taliban, which had sheltered the Al Qaeda perpetrators of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Some 13,000 U.S. and NATO troops are still fighting the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and the Islamic State, mostly by advising embattled Afghan forces. U.S. military commanders have requested 3,000 to 5,000 more U.S. troops for Afghanistan, and Mattis has signaled that he will comply. "The Taliban had a good year last year, and they're trying to have a good one this year," he told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. "Right now, I believe the enemy is surging," and the U.S. is "not winning."
Asked what "winning" would look like in Afghanistan, Mattis said it would "be an era of frequent skirmishing, and it's going to require a change in our approach from the last several years if we're to get it to that position," where local Afghan forces could tamp down violence while U.S. and NATO forces in the country offered advice, intelligence, and airstrikes. More than 5,000 Afghan forces were killed in the first eight months of 2016, and more than 3,000 civilians were killed all year. More than 2,300 members of the U.S. military have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001, including three on Saturday. Peter Weber