AMMAN, Reuters - President Donald Trump has made a decision on the United States’ strategy for Afghanistan after a “sufficiently rigorous” review process, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Sunday.
However, Mattis did not provide details on when the White House would make an announcement or what the decision was on Afghanistan, where fighting still rages more than 15 years after U.S. forces invaded and overthrew a Taliban government.
Soon after taking office in January, the Trump administration began a review of U.S. policy on Afghanistan, which has expanded into a broader South Asia review.
“I am very comfortable that the strategic process was sufficiently rigorous and did not go in with a pre-set position,” Mattis told reporters travelling with him aboard a military aircraft to Jordan. “The president has made a decision. As he said, he wants to be the one to announce it to the American people.”
After Trump met with his national security aides on Friday to review an array of options for Afghan strategy, the White House said no decision had been made on whether he would commit more troops to America’s longest war. However, Trump tweeted on Saturday: “many decisions made, including on Afghanistan”.
U.S. officials have told Reuters that the president was expected to be briefed on options ranging from a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to a modest increase.
One U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Trump’s top national security aides are backing adding between 3,000 and 5,000 troops and allowing them to embed with Afghan forces closer to combat.
Democratic U.S. Senator Tim Kaine said lawmakers were waiting for the Trump administration to articulate its strategy on Afghanistan before making a judgment on troops.
“The troop strength question is sort of cart before the horse,” Kaine told CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “The real question is what is our strategy? And then when you lay out the strategy, the troop strength question can kind of answer itself.”
U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told “Fox News Sunday” that he would oppose sending more troops.
“I don’t believe putting more American soldiers in Afghanistan is the answer,” he said, adding that the goal should be to help Afghanistan work toward having and maintaining a stable government.
Michael Kugelman, with the Woodrow Wilson Center think tank in Washington, said an extended strategy review was somewhat positive because it showed that all options were being considered. However, recent gains by Taliban militants made it imperative that a strategy be announced soon.
According to U.S. estimates, government forces control less than 60 percent of Afghanistan, with almost half the country either contested or under the control of the insurgents.
“The Taliban insurgency has never been stronger... We need a strategy to address all this, and fast,” Kugelman said.
Reporting by Idrees Ali; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Sarah N. Lynch in Washington; editing by David Stamp and Nick Zieminski