“If we don’t have the appetite to be there a long time, we should just leave,” senior administration official says
President Donald Trump is reportedly considering a total U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan as part of the administration’s strategy review towards the 16-year conflict.
According to the Wall Street Journal, current and former administration officials say the White House is analyzing the implications of a scaled back military presence in Afghanistan.
“It’s a macro question as to whether the U.S., this administration, and this president are committed to staying,” a senior administration official said. “It doesn’t work unless we are there for a long time, and if we don’t have the appetite to be there a long time, we should just leave. It’s an unanswered question.”
Trump and his top advisors remain at odds with senior national security officials such as Secretary of Defense James Mattis and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, both of whom support a troop increase for America’s longest war.
A plan from McMaster calling for an additional 3,900 U.S. troops in Afghanistan was recently shot down during a recent National Security Council meeting due to the president being unconvinced that a troop surge would ultimately change the tide of the war.
The White House is also looking at the possibility of a heavily reduced U.S. role in Afghanistan that would instead put an emphasis on drone strikes and special forces groups.
“It is becoming clearer and clearer to people that those are the options: go forward with something like the strategy we have developed, or withdraw,” the senior administration official added.
One senior U.S. military official attempted to push back on the notion that a total troop withdrawal held widespread support within the White House.
“At best, that is a very low minority view,” the military official said. “It’s flawed because it doesn’t address the primary concerns of getting to a point where Afghanistan is able to secure itself.”
Former U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Laurel Miller, who participated in McMaster’s policy review for Afghanistan, echoed Trump’s concerns last week over the ongoing conflict.
“I don’t think there is any serious analyst of the situation in Afghanistan who believes that the war is winnable,” Miller told Politico. “It’s possible to prevent the defeat of the Afghan government and prevent military victory by the Taliban, but this is not a war that’s going to be won.”
Despite predictions by Mattis that the White House would have its policy in place by mid-July, a concrete strategy remains out of reach as competing factions in the administration struggle for control over Afghanistan’s future.