WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump wants to win the war against terrorism in Afghanistan and beyond, the White House says as the president’s national security team urged the administration to send more troops to Kabul.

At a Tuesday afternoon news briefing, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer explained that the team, headed by US National Security Adviser Gen H.R. McMaster, was not only reviewing the Afghan policy but was also tasked with rethinking the entire strategy for combating terrorism.

“That’s what the team has been doing holistically, not just in Afghanistan, but the total — beyond Afghanistan it’s also the way that he’s asking them to look at the threat that ISIS [IS] poses,” he said.

The US media reported on Tuesday that the team had submitted its proposal to President Trump, which includes a suggestion for sending 3,000 to 5,000 additional troops to the country. At the White House briefing, Spicer not only said that President Trump wanted to win the war in Afghanistan but also explained how the president defined this victory: “Reducing, minimising and eliminating” the threat of terrorism in Afghanistan and across the globe.

When a journalist reminded Spicer that there’s a difference between winning and reducing a threat, he said: “We want to eliminate the threats that are against our national security and pose a threat to our citizens, our allies.”

Further explaining the concept of victory for President Trump, the White House official said: “We need to fully eliminate any threat around the globe, frankly, not just in Afghanistan, that poses a threat to our people and our allies.”

The journalist reminded him that at one point the United States had more than 100,000 troops in Afghanistan and yet it could not eliminate the threat. “Why would 15,000 [after the proposed addition] do the trick if 100,000 didn’t before?” she asked.

“Just because you spend more, throw more people, doesn’t mean you’re doing it in the most effective way,” said Spicer, reminding the journalist that President Trump had also asked his national security team to “rethink the strategy” for Afghanistan. “What are we doing to achieve the goals that you are asking about, how do we win? How do we eliminate the threat?”

So, the review was not only focused on the question of throwing more money or people into Afghanistan but was also looking at the mission and the strategy, he said.

Spicer disagreed with the suggestion that sending more troops to Afghanistan would negate the promise Trump made during the election campaign of ending the Afghan war.

‘Goal is to defeat IS’

“There is a difference between Afghanistan proper and our effort to defeat ISIS. And that’s one thing that he was also very clear on in the campaign — and as president — that he is going to do everything he can to fight radical Islamic terrorism, to root out and destroy ISIS,” he said.

Spicer explained that sometimes fighting the war in Afghanistan could be “synonymous” with fighting IS and sometimes it could be different. “The goal is always going to be to defeat ISIS,” he added.

When a journalist reminded him that the larger, “and more malignant” issue in Afghanistan was Taliban, not ISIS, Spicer said: “Multiple missions [are] going on to confront those multiple things … the main objective [is to prevent] Afghanistan from being used as a safe haven for terrorists who attack the United States and our allies.” Identifying the groups that posed this threat, he said: “We remain focused on the defeat of Al Qaeda, its associates, as well as the defeat of ISIS-K, which is the ISIS affiliate there in Afghanistan.”

Asked if the new strategy would be so effective that 15,000 troops can achieve what 100,000 deployed after 9/11 could not, Spicer said President Trump had asked his national security team to tell him “how we get there [victory], as opposed to, tell me how many troops we need and then what you’re going to do with them asking to re-look at the entire strategy, and then figure out what the footprint is in a variety of ways to get there.”

Stop unrealistic timetables

The international force assisting the Afghan government has about 13,000 troops in Afghanistan, including 8,400 Americans. With 5,000 additional US troops, this number would go up to 18,000 while the United States is also asking its Nato allies to send more troops.

Earlier this week, Nato Secretary-General Jens Stolt­enberg told a German newspaper that the alliance would decide on a potential troop increase by June, and could also lengthen the time of a soldier’s deployment from one year to up to two years.

The Trump administration has not yet disclosed the details of the new strategy but media reports suggest that it would be a combination of a sizable military presence and financial assistance. The main theme behind the new strategy is a sustained US commitment to Afghanistan.

The proposals submitted to the Trump administration call for discontinuing annual reviews of the US military presence in Afghanistan and to stop setting unrealistic timetables for troop withdrawal.

Last week, a US government watchdog urged the Trump administration to effectively counter pernicious Afghan corruption and identify the factors that have prevented Kabul from building a strong security force for fighting insurgency.

The new strategy would seek about $23 billion a year for maintaining the US and Nato military presence in Afghanistan and for programmes for the social and economic uplift of the Afghan people.

Published in Dawn, May 11th, 2017

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