President Trump’s decision on whether to add thousands of U.S. troops to the fight in Afghanistan has been delayed thanks to an intense debate within the White House over the plan, The New York Times reported Wednesday.
Trump, who will arrive at a NATO summit in Belgium on Thursday, was expected to make a decision on the additional troop deployment before the meeting.
But officials told the Times the decision has been postponed, as Trump wants to assess what other NATO members are willing to contribute to the military effort before he makes any commitment. The U.S. spends about $3.1 billion per month in Afghanistan.
The administration is considering the deployment of an additional 3,000 to 5,000 troops to Afghanistan to join the roughly 8,400 U.S. troops there already to train, advise and assist Afghan forces in their fight against the Taliban and to conduct counterterrorism missions against groups such as al Qaeda and ISIS.
Senior Pentagon officials broadly support such a request and assert that the additional troops would help end a 16-year-long fight that has frustrated many.
Gen. John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, described the current fight as a stalemate and told lawmakers in February he needs a few thousand additional troops.
And Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of U.S. Central Command, said in March that he anticipates more U.S. forces being sent to Afghanistan “to ensure that we can make the advise-and-assist mission more effective.”
Critics, however, say the plan — which also includes new funding to help the Afghan government — is not likely to come cheap and does not have a clear path to how it would end the ongoing conflict.
There is also a split between Trump’s military advisers — led by Defense Secretary James Mattis and national security adviser H.R. McMaster, who both served in Afghanistan — and the president’s political aides, including chief strategist Stephen Bannon.
Top Pentagon officials are aware that there is opposition within the White House to adding more troops. Senior White House officials are demanding greater commitments from NATO allies before the United States sends more troops, the Times reported.
National Security Council staff members have also expressed fears of expensive, open-ended U.S. troop commitments.
Mattis told reporters Friday that he had not yet made recommendations to Trump on how many more U.S. troops are needed in Afghanistan.
“That recommendation is being put together by the [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford] and myself, and I expect it'll go to decision very, very soon,” he said.