US considers ‘boosting troop presence’ in Afghanistan

Recommendation is made after broad review and comes while NATO asks UK for more troops as well, reports say.

Taliban announce spring offensive in Afghanistan
US considers sending more troops to Afghanistan after the Taliban began a 'spring offensive' [Reuters]

US military officials and advisers to Donald Trump’s administration have drafted a proposal to increase the number of soldiers in Afghanistan, according to several media reports in the United States.

The reported recommendation comes after an alleged broad review conducted by the Pentagon, State Department, intelligence agencies and other government institutions.

Official sources quoted anonymously by US media said the increase would range from between 3,000 to 5,000 soldiers, including Special Operations forces.

Can Taliban be defeated? – Inside Story

The aim of such a step would be to break the military stalemate in Afghanistan and push the Taliban – who have made gains in recent months – to negotiate with the Kabul government, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.

President Donald Trump will receive a proposed new approach to the war within a week, Theresa Whelan, a Pentagon policy official, told US senators last week during a hearing.

Al Jazeera’s Patty Culhane, reporting from Washington, DC, described the leaks to US media as “classic Washington”.

“The US military wants to send in an additional 3,000 to 5,000 troops to Afghanistan, the president is on the verge of making a decision – and suddenly it ends up in all of the newspapers, in many ways trying to box in Trump,” she said.

“They did the exact same thing to ex-President Barack Obama when it came to Afghanistan.”

Call for negotiations

Matthew Glanville, former special adviser to Iraqi, Afghan and US governments, said that a troop increase without a strong commitment to force the Taliban to the negotiating table would have limited impact.


Donald Trump had asked for a review, and this is the military’s response – given very publicly.

This is going to be a tough spot for Trump – he is the self-styled “America First president” who had told all of his supporters that he was going to get out of foreign entanglements and was going to stop spending US money overseas – we are talking about a substantial investment of tens of billions of dollars if he is to go along with that.

But in the campaign trail he had also said he was going to defeat “extremists” at all costs and let the generals do what they want – so they are asking now this is what we want to do.

Trump is expected to make his decision before he goes to the May 25 NATO meeting.

It seems clear that one thing he will insist on – because we have heard this rhetoric from him over and over – is that if the US is going to send in additional troops, then NATO needs to do just as much.

There is probably one thing that is pretty clear that he will do.

The Pentagon is asking for authority to basically decide for themselves what the troops should be [doing] on a day-to-day basis and they want to have more authority to attack the Taliban after Obama put in some limits to as to exactly how and when they could strike.

The military wants these rules suspended and Trump has shown every willingness to let the military do what it wants to do when it comes to that.

“There’s got to be a serious engagement with negotiating with the Taliban,” he told Al Jazeera from London.

“The Taliban will only negotiate under pressure or in the face of significant international forces.”

READ MORE: Nearly 90,000 Afghans displaced in 2017

The US has about 8,400 troops in Afghanistan, with about another 5,000 from NATO allies.

Back in February, General John Nicholson, the commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, told Congress that he would need an extra “few thousand” troops to make gains against the Taliban and break what he called a stalemate against the armed group’s fighters.

Most US forces in Afghanistan are taking part in NATO’s training mission, seeking to boost Afghan forces who have been straining to beat back the Taliban since international forces ended their combat mission in 2014.

“The US at one point had 100,000 troops in Afghanistan and they were not able to defeat the Taliban – so what can they do with 10 times fewer troops?” Al Jazeera’s Culhane said.

“What they are saying behind the scenes is that they don’t think they can defeat the Taliban, but they need to try and change the balance; to try and incentivize the Taliban to get to some sort of political solution.”

Taliban attacks

Afghanistan has seen intensified Taliban attacks across the country, leaving Afghan forces – already beset by killings, desertions and vacuums in leadership and morale – stretched on multiple fronts.

They have faced high casualties, up 35 percent in 2016 with 6,800 soldiers and police killed, according to a US watchdog.

Child Soldiers Reloaded – Featured Documentary

In April, the Taliban announced the beginning of its annual “spring offensive” and last week the armed group stormed and seized a district in the vicinity of Kunduz, in northern Afghanistan.

Glanville told Al Jazeera that “it was not surprising” that the Taliban had “taken advantage” of  President Obama’s “decision to reduce troop numbers from well over 100,000 down to 8,000”.

He added that the Afghan army still needs a lot of logistical support, intelligence and air support.

“The world has a commitment to try and prop up a stable Afghan government and this small number of troops is a contributing factor,” Glanville said.

READ MORE: Is Afghanistan new battlefield for traditional rivals?

The potential increase in US troop figures comes amid NATO calls for the UK to also increase the number of its own soldiers in Afghanistan, according to British media reports.

While the request was reportedly made some weeks ago, it is expected that the subject will be on the agenda of a meeting between Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO secretary general, and British Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday in London.

Currently, the UK has 500 soldiers stationed in Afghanistan, providing security and training for local forces in the capital, Kabul.

The last British combat forces were pulled out of Afghanistan in October 2014.

NATO taking on more

In April, Stoltenberg told German media that the alliance is considering an increase of its 13,000 troops in Afghanistan and that the decision would be taken by June.

Speaking to Welt am Sonntag, Stoltenberg said that plans included more engagement in Jordan and Tunisia, which he called “islands of stability” in the region.

Separately, NATO sources told the German weekly Spiegel that the Trump administration is asking the alliance to formally join the international coalition fighting ISIL in Iraq and Syria.

At present, all NATO countries are taking part in the US-led coalition, but the alliance per se has not joined.

The leaders of NATO countries are to meet on May 25 in Brussels, in a meeting that will also be attended by Trump. 

Taliban Oil – Featured Documentary

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies