SitRep: Trump Pushes Forward in Afghanistan, Refuses to Provide Details
With Adam Rawnsley A new push in the same forever war. President Donald Trump sought to bury the Obama approach to Afghanistan by adding more troops, erasing timelines, and calling for the defeat of the Taliban. In his prime time speech Monday night, the president refused to say how many more troops he would ...
With Adam Rawnsley
A new push in the same forever war. President Donald Trump sought to bury the Obama approach to Afghanistan by adding more troops, erasing timelines, and calling for the defeat of the Taliban.
In his prime time speech Monday night, the president refused to say how many more troops he would add to the fight, or outline exactly what they would be doing. But he promised “in the end, we will win” by following what appears to be a reheated version of the strategy U.S. presidents and military commanders have taken there for the past 16 years.
The New York Times:
“By refusing to place a number on troops or to specify benchmarks for success, Mr. Trump was in essence shielding himself against potential backlash from his political base and from the American public, which has grown weary of the war.
The president heaped contempt on his predecessor’s strategy, promising that he would avoid President Barack Obama’s mistakes.
But in substance, Mr. Trump’s strategy was not all that different from Mr. Obama’s, relying on a mix of conventional military force and diplomatic pressure on Pakistan. One administration official conceded that there was to be no major change in the mix of American forces operating in Afghanistan, and that the priorities would remain training Afghan forces and conducting counterterrorism operations.”
“President Trump’s decision to continue military operations in Afghanistan, with a probably modest increase in U.S. troops, is an incremental shift in strategy that may help hold the line against a resurgent Taliban but isn’t likely to change the course of the United States’ longest war.”
The view from Kabul. The AP reports: “In Kabul, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid dismissed Trump’s speech as ‘old’ and his policy as ‘unclear.’ But the plan was cheered by Afghanistan’s government. Ambassador Hamdullah Mohib, the Afghan envoy to Washington, called it a ‘10 out of 10…We heard exactly what we needed to,’ Mohib said in a phone interview. ‘The focus on the numbers has taken away the real focus on what should have been: what conditions are required and what kind of support is necessary.’”
Add it up. By sending what is expected to be an additional 4,000 troops to the effort, U.S. commanders on the ground will have more trainers and advisors to backstop Afghan forces in the fight. It will also allow those commanders to push their troops closer to the front lines to work with Kabul’s forces at the tactical level, akin to what U.S. forces are doing in Iraq and Syria.
Is NATO on board? Difficult to say. The alliance is already contributing 6,000 troops to the effort, and European allies have been a stalwart ally in the war since the beginning. While leadership in Brussels has made all the right noises about continuing to gut it out, NATO has not said how many more soldiers have been offered, “and early signs from major alliance members suggest limited increases,” Stars and Stripes points out.
In the air. One element of the Afghan armed forces that has received particular attention in recent years is the country’s fledgling air force. FP’s Sharon Weinberger and Paul McLeary spoke with several generals on the ground in Afghanistan who working to train both pilots and ground troops. But much remains uncertain. The plans to grow the air service appear to be on track, but the timeline might be a problem. From the story:
The timeline for the refit of the Afghan air force now goes through fiscal year 2023, Air Force Brig. Gen. Phillip A. Stewart, the general in charge of the effort, said. ‘Obviously that exceeds our current authority to be there, so there’s a future policy decision to be made, which I’m not the guy to talk to about that.’” But, he points out, Afghan pilots are flying more combat missions than ever before, and that number is only going to go up.
Cost. If Congress funds the president’s $45 billion wartime request to fund the fight in Afghanistan this year, the war will have cost the Pentagon over $800 billion.
Baghdad bound. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis landed in Baghdad on Tuesday to meet with Iraqi and Kurdish leaders as Iraqi forces mop up ISIS elements around Mosul, and push on the ISIS-held city of Tal Afar. Mattis is expected to press Massoud Barzani, president of the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government, to call off a planned referendum on independence on Sept. 25 hat U.S. officials worry could harm the fragile peace that is beginning to take shape in parts of northern Iraq.
Navy losing ships. Following the USS John S. McCain’s collision with an oil tanker near Singapore on Monday, the U.S. Navy is now down two advanced Japan-based destroyers that act as a critical defense to North Korean ballistic missile launches.
But there are other problems. Given budgetary squeezes, “basic training is truncated,” defense consultant and former navy commander Bryan McGrath told FP’s Paul McLeary. “It’s worth looking into whether the operational requirements are impacting the Navy’s ability to do the kind of basic blocking and tackling of training for maneuver and navigation.”
The U.S. 7th Fleet relies on destroyers as critical defenses against North Korean missile launches. Both guided missile destroyers are equipped with the Aegis radar and missile defense system, which is capable of knocking North Korean missiles out of the air. The Navy has about 36 similar destroyers based around the Pacific region, but both ships are based at Yokosuka, Japan close to the Korean coast.
FP recently mapped U.S. missile defense systems and naval bases surrounding the Korean peninsula, which operate as the first line of defense against any offensive missile launches from the regime in Pyongyang.
Big money. Boeing and Northrop Grumman have won initial contracts to move on to the next phase of the Air Force’s intercontinental ballistic missile replacement program, Defense News reports. The service awarded the two companies almost $700 million in contracts Monday to work on the program, which the Air Force has yet to fully define.
Predator troubles. In the wake of larger tragedies concerning the U.S. navy, and deadly Marine Corps plane and helicopter crashes, the Air Force is also staring at a vexing new problem: It’s Predator drones keep falling from the sky. The service has seen two of the drones crash this week after taking off from the Incirlik air base in Turkey, the Air Force Times points out. So far, there’s been no explanation for what is happening.
Welcome to SitRep. As always, please send any tips, thoughts or national security events to email@example.com or via Twitter: @paulmcleary.
Barcelona. Spanish police killed the driver of the van used in a terrorist attack against a crowd in Barcelona after a local woman spotted the man who authorities had been hunting for since Thursday. Spanish police shot and killed Younes Abouyaaqoub, a Moroccan citizen, in a town outside Barcelona after finding him wearing a suicide belt. The Islamic State has since claimed the attack in Barcelona, which killed 13 people.
From Pyongyang with love. A Syrian government organization responsible for chemical weapons has been receiving shipments from North Korea, according to a leaked copy of a U.N. panel of experts report seen by Reuters. Two unnamed countries seized two separate shipments from the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation to Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC).
Friends in high places. A Russian-American lobbyist who met with the Trump campaign in 2016 has ties to Russia’s domestic intelligence agency, but counterintelligence officials tell The New York Times that they they were agnostic on whether or not he was working on behalf of Russian spies. Colleagues say Rinat Akhmetshin openly boasted of ties to Russian intelligence, escorting former Federal Security Service chief Viktor Ivanov around Washington in 2010.
Personnel. As expected, Russia has picked former arms treaty negotiator Anatoly Antonov as its man to represent Moscow in the United States. Antonov’s counterparts in the U.S. describe him as a tough shepherd of Russian interests, who’s well versed in arms control issues. The European Union sanctioned Antonov for his alleged role in Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Time for some visa problems in Moscow. The U.S. is putting the brakes on new nonimmigrant visas for Russians as part of the tit-for-tat diplomatic feud that started after the U.S. expelled Russian diplomats for Moscow’s alleged role in hacking the 2016 presidential campaign. Diplomats say the reduction in visas is due to Russia’s cutbacks on the size of the U.S. mission, and the cuts are expected to put a significant dent in Russian tourism to America.
Improvised explosive Barbie. Lebanese authorities say they busted a plot to hide a bomb inside a Barbie doll and blow up a flight from Australia to the United Arab Emirates. Four brothers, one of whom professed to be a member of the Islamic State, botched the Barbie bomb plot when a handbag containing the device weighed in too heavy for the airline they were targeting.
Gitmo. The Navy wants a nearly half-billion dollar renovation for the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, including a new $250 million hospital with just five beds. The Army wants to spend $124 million extra for a barracks at the facility and the Pentagon is hoping for $100 million for additional housing.
Killer robots. Billionaire tech entrepreneur Elon Musk is lending his name to the campaign for a preemptive ban on autonomous weapons capable of making independent decisions to kill.
Photo Credit:NOOR MOHAMMAD/AFP/Getty Images
Paul McLeary was a staff writer at Foreign Policy from 2015-2018.
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