Defense

Defense policy bill would require Trump’s Afghanistan, Syria strategies

The House Armed Services Committee’s version of the annual defense policy bill would require the president to give Congress his strategies for United States involvement in Afghanistan and Syria.

The provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) are meant to ensure the administration follows through on its promise to give Congress an Afghanistan strategy and build off a previous bill’s requirement that it give Congress a Syria strategy, a committee aide said Monday.

For Afghanistan, Defense Secretary James Mattis has promised to deliver Congress a new strategy by mid-July that would include a troop increase of a few thousand to break what top generals have described as a stalemate.

To ensure Congress gets a strategy, the NDAA would require the Pentagon to submit a report by Feb. 15 that looks “beyond the next five years and should connect current lines of effort to a steady state for U.S. involvement in Afghanistan that meets U.S. objectives,” according to the bill summary.

Asked Monday whether the committee is concerned the administration is being too slow with the strategies, the aide said, “It’s not that.”

“With regard to Afghanistan, we are anticipating — they haven’t made a decision — but a change in their strategy and so it’s just, I’ll call it ‘due diligence and appropriate oversight’ to ensure that we actually get that strategy articulated,” the aide continued in a background briefing.

{mosads}“With regard to Syria, there was the requirement, there were funds fenced in the omnibus…we just want them to do, we don’t want them to have to redo that work, but to build on that work to take a little bit more of a more regional view and a little bit more of a longer term view, rather than more of a tactical view about what those funds and what they’re positioning themselves to do would mean for U.S. interests,” the aide added.

On Syria, Congress has been asking for the administration’s broader strategy since President Trump ordered a cruise missile strike on a Syrian government airfield in April. The strike came in response to the chemical weapons attack on civilians carried out by Syrian President Bashar Assad.

To that end, the catch-all fiscal 2017 appropriations bill required the president to submit a strategy for the Syrian civil war, as well as one for the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Congress fenced $2.5 billion until it receives the ISIS strategy.

Building on that, the NDAA would require a report by Feb. 1 that assesses the goals of state actors such as Iran, non-state threats such as al Qaeda and the ISIS, the resources and timeline required to achieve U.S. objectives, the transition from military operations to stabilization programs and the risks to U.S. forces.

“The committee understands that the political and military situation in Syria is unpredictable and that the nature of U.S. involvement may change as the result of such volatility,” the bill summary says. “The committee, however, believes it important to articulate the United States’ strategic objectives and describe a realistic process for achieving such objectives.” 

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