On Thursday, a Defense Department official told the Senate that the Pentagon has nearly completed its review of U.S. war plans in Afghanistan and will offer a set of recommendations to President Donald Trump next week.
Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations Theresa Whelan said these proposals would be designed to “move beyond the stalemate” with Taliban insurgents.
General Raymond Thomas of the U.S. Special Operations Command added that he believes “we have an adequate number of my troops, special operations forces, on the ground.” He said changes in the rules of engagement for U.S. troops were under consideration.
Reuters cites U.S. officials who said, “the situation in Afghanistan is even worse than they had expected,” and it was unlikely any “politically palatable” number of additional U.S. troops would be enough to stabilize the country.
There are several pertinent issues for U.S. planners to address. Fox News reports that one of the biggest problems in Afghanistan is the ability of insurgent fighters to move around the country unimpeded, in broad daylight. Mysterious groups of young men numbering the hundreds have been able to travel across the country in convoys of buses without serious challenge from the authorities.
“No one knows who they are and nobody here seems to be stopping them to find out,” an exasperated Afghan official told Fox News. Other sources in Afghanistan complained that the central government in Kabul has all but forgotten about remote areas of the country, making it all too easy for the Taliban to recruit new fighters. Local citizens have taken to pestering the government with social media posts about large movements of military-age males, in the hope they will investigate.
Afghan government forces have been fighting with Pakistani units in the border regions, as well as the Taliban. The latest incident involved an exchange of gunfire between Afghan border police and a unit of the Pakistani Frontier Corps. The Pakistani military said its troops were providing security for a population census team. At least one civilian was killed, with over a dozen injuries. Afghanistan and Pakistan are blaming each other for the civilian death.
Afghanistan has further accused Pakistan of aiding the Taliban, a charge Pakistan answers by claiming it needs to give Taliban groups safe haven so it can conduct peace talks with them.
On Thursday, Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar returned to Kabul for a meeting with President Ashraf Ghani after 20 years in exile. Hekmatyar, who was prime minister in the 1990s before the rise of the Taliban, led an Islamist organization called Hezb-i-Islami that was known to collaborate with the Taliban and al-Qaeda, but his group reached a deal with the Afghan government last fall, and he is making a return to politics.
The Afghan government is hopeful that Hekmatyar can negotiate with both the Taliban and Pakistan. He recently called on the Taliban to join a “caravan of peace” and “stop the pointless, meaningless, and unholy war.”