Defense

White House still mulling Afghan strategy

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The Pentagon and White House have yet to land on a definitive strategy for moving forward the 16-year-old war in Afghanistan, a Defense Department spokesman said Monday.

Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said Defense Secretary Jim Mattis “wants to get the strategy right first,” before committing to any troop increases or drawdowns.

“We’re contributing to a process that’s being led by the White House that is looking across our instruments of national power, not just military, but diplomatic, financial, intelligence and information as well to lay what out our desired end state is,” Davis told reporters at the Pentagon.

“From that will be derived any follow-on decisions about troops or anything else,” he added.

The United States has about 8,400 troops in Afghanistan already, and the Trump administration was mulling whether to send 3,000 to 5,000 more to break a so-called stalemate against groups including the Taliban and al Qaeda.

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But The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that President Trump’s hesitation to send more troops to Afghanistan has officials looking at the option of withdrawal from the country.

When asked about the Journal story, Davis would not say whether Mattis was considering a full withdrawal, saying only “we want to get the strategy first. That’s what we’re working on right now.”

“[Mattis] has ruled out making a decision before a strategy,” Davis said.

Mattis in June promised to deliver Congress a strategy by mid-July on the way forward in Afghanistan. But with August around the corner and no strategy in sight, lawmakers are growing frustrated.

Among those annoyed by the wait is Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.), who will introduce an amendment to the annual defense policy bill to provide an Afghanistan strategy.

“More than six months after President Trump’s inauguration, there still is no strategy for success in Afghanistan,” McCain said in a statement Monday.

“Our troops deserve better. When the Senate takes up the National Defense Authorization Act in September, I will offer an amendment based on the advice of some our best military leaders that will provide a strategy for success in achieving America’s national interests in Afghanistan,” McCain wrote. 

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