U.S. Army officials are weighing the implementation of an effort that may expand the American military footprint in Afghanistan by at least 1,000 to beyond the nearly 14,000 already there, as they are focused on pressuring the terrorist group to negotiate peace with Kabul, a major tenet of the Trump administration war strategy.
Although U.S. officials insist that the U.S. combat mission remains over, “the new strategy that President Trump approved in August would push American advisory teams to the battalion level, far closer to the front lines,” reported the Washington Post.
“U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has not signed off on the proposals for the new forces [estimated 1,000 troops], which are part of a broader strategy to bolster Afghan forces so that they can pound the Taliban during the upcoming fighting season,” adds the newspaper.
U.S. Army’s senior leadership, which has been charged with determining the number of troops required to employ “a strategy centered on a new combat formation,” approved the troop increase, notes the Post.
American officials are reportedly trying to bill the increase in U.S. military forces as an “adjustment” to the mission, rather than a requested increase in troops “associated with a shift in strategy,” an unnamed spokesman for U.S. Gen. John Nicholson, the top commander of American and NATO troops, reportedly indicated.
Trump has largely left the execution of the Afghan war to the Pentagon.
Nevertheless, the commander-in-chief has not shied away from establishing benchmarks, making it clear to defense officials he expects “to see a quick return on the increased U.S. investment in troops and money in Afghanistan. Pentagon officials are also under pressure to keep troop numbers from growing significantly,” noted the Post.
Gen. Nicholson has stressed that the current tempo of U.S. involvement in the war, including the deployment of additional U.S. advisers and record firepower, will allow the Afghan forces to reconquer “80 percent of the country in the next two years.”
Independent and government-sponsored assessments from late last year showed that, as of the end of September 2017, the Taliban controlled or contested about 45 percent of Afghanistan.
America’s move to boost its military presence in Afghanistan comes after Nicholson announced that the United States was considering ramping up its anti-terror campaign beyond the fighting season and into the winter months, marking a mostly unprecedented move from other years.
Early this month, Gen. Joseph Votel, the chief of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), indicated that an imminent influx of new U.S. trainers could assist the Afghans to regain territory.