It’s going to be ‘wash, rinse, repeat’ in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future
President Trump’s speech this week announcing his decision to extend the U.S. war in Afghanistan provided no detail on exactly what new American troops will do when deployed.
Trump went out of his way during his announcement at Fort Myer, Va., to say, “we will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities.”
Trump’s decision not to telegraph his plans was in keeping with his frequent assertion on the campaign trail about the need to maintain battle plan secrecy — a stance that was intended as a rebuke of former president Barack Obama’s 2009 announcement in which he provided a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan.
So what is in store for U.S. troops in Afghanistan and how many forces might Trump send?
The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. John Nicholson and his boss, Gen. Joseph Votel, head of U.S. Central Command, testified to Congress earlier this year that they needed “a few thousand” more troops to help push back the Taliban and support the Afghan military. Eventually, the Pentagon settled on 3,900, a number repeated up until Trump’s announcement.
It is unclear how many U.S. troops are in Afghanistan. Officially, there are supposed to be around 8,500, but with Special Operations forces and other units constantly rotating in and out of the country, that number is likely somewhere around 10,000 to 11,000. There are also about 5,000 troops from other NATO and coalition countries.
More troops will reinforce the two existing missions — Operation Resolute Support and Operation Freedom Sentinel. The former is a joint U.S.-NATO operation to train, advise and assist Afghan security forces, including the army, air force and special operations units. The latter is a U.S.-run counterterrorism mission focused primarily on al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.
“What we’ve asked for is primarily forces for the train and advise and assist portion,” said a U.S. military official in Kabul, speaking a week before Trump’s announcement. “It’s is a very small portion that has a counterterrorism flavor to it.”
“More than 95 to 98 percent of what we’ve asked for is the [train, advise, assist] mission,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss planning.
Source: Washington Post
Why it’s on our radar: No matter what you thought personally about President Trump’s speech earlier this week when he announced a new way forward in Afghanistan, it is beginning to look like more of the same kind of strategy that has been pursued now for a number of years — wash, rinse, repeat if you will.
When I was in Afghanistan doing route clearance in 2009-2010, we were part of the Obama surge; our mission was different in that it was offensive in nature and aimed at keeping the Taliban off the roads in RC East and off-balance. But for the past 3-4 years, as Obama withdrew forces, the mission refocused on training, primarily, and special ops. Like now. And that sounds a lot like that’s what U.S. troops will be doing for the foreseeable future.
Which means, the promised victory-then-withdrawal isn’t likely to happen very soon either, if at all. We very well could be looking at a permanent U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.
Say what you will about the former Soviet Union: At least when Moscow finally figured out it was fighting a losing battle, after a decade the Kremlin pulled all Soviet forces out, without caveat and without looking back. American leaders seem incapable of learning that lesson.