U.S. President Donald Trump, during a phone conversation in December, allegedly told his Afghan counterpart that he would mull over expanding the American military footprint in war-torn Afghanistan.
Unnamed Afghan officials reportedly confirmed the call to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).
“President-elect Donald J. Trump said he would certainly continue to support Afghanistan security forces and will consider a proposal for more troops after an assessment,” reportedly revealed one Afghan official briefed on the call in December.
The Journal adds:
One U.S. military official said that, broadly speaking, there was a possibility that Mr. Trump would consider more troops for the mission in Afghanistan, but that it might not be one of the top priorities for the new commander-in-chief. Defense Secretary James Mattis, in his second full day on the job on Tuesday, was still assessing a variety of defense issues with which he is now confronted
U.S. military officials said the Trump administration is expected to be looking for easy ways to increase the effort against al Qaeda, the Taliban and Islamic State.
WSJ learned from Afghan officials that then-President-elect Trump and Afghan President Ghani discussed the security situation in Afghanistan and relations with Pakistan. Ghani has reportedly demanded more U.S. troops.
American military officials in Afghanistan and the White House declined to comment to the Journal on the alleged phone conversation between Trump and Ghani.
Despite promising to pull all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, former President Barack Obama changed his plans and decided to maintain 8,400 troops in the country.
Rather than drawing down the number of American forces, with less than two weeks left in office, Obama announced that the United States would send some 300 Marines to southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province, a Taliban stronghold that lies on the country’s border with Pakistan. The Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) branch in the region, a Taliban rival, has also expanded its influence in Afghanistan.
The Marines are expected to train, advise and assist Afghan security forces struggling to push the group out of the top opium-producing province, one of the deadliest regions for U.S. and their allies in the country.
The Pentagon reported that the U.S. maintained a force posture of up to 9,800 troops in Afghanistan as of December.
Citing Pentagon figures, the Journal notes that 8,400 American troops are permanently stationed in Afghanistan, adding, “in addition to those forces, small numbers are sent in on short deployments from bases in other countries in the region.”
U.S. troops continued to engage in combat even after Obama declared the American combat mission over and withdrew most U.S. troops in 2014.
“Mr. Trump, who hasn’t outlined a plan for the war in Afghanistan, has inherited a difficult dilemma,” notes WSJ. “He can either risk letting the security situation unravel further or again escalate U.S. involvement in a war that has dragged on for more than 15 years.”
The Taliban intensified its insurgency and expanded the territory under its control after Obama ended the combat mission and pulled most American troops in 2014.
Now, the group is believed to control more territory than at any time since it was dethroned by the U.S. military in 2001.