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Trump Faces Range of Options for New US Strategy in This Hotbed of Terrorism

© AP Photo / Abdul KhaliqIn this July 24, 2016 file photo, a US military personal stands guard during a graduation ceremony for Afghan troops, in Lashkargah, capital of southern Helmand province, Afghanistan.
In this July 24, 2016 file photo, a US military personal stands guard during a graduation ceremony for Afghan troops, in Lashkargah, capital of southern Helmand province, Afghanistan. - Sputnik International
US President Donald Trump is faced with a wide range of options for future US policy in Afghanistan, from reinvigorating the involvement to complete withdrawal, and his "business administration" approach makes it hard to predict which road he will choose, experts told Sputnik.

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PARIS (Sputnik) — US Secretary of Defense James Mattis said on July 14 that the US Department of Defense was close to completing its policy review for a new strategy in Afghanistan. However, according to media reports, Trump was not satisfied with the strategies presented to him and sent them back.

"There is no concrete information. There are some US commentators who continue to explain that what president Trump is doing is abominable but who are also just discovering that he doesn't work as [if] he had studied political science. President Trump adapts a technique of business administration to the country's governance and to international relations. It's absolutely new and it's based on cost-effectiveness analysis, seeing what worked and what didn't work, trying to not reproduce the same mistakes. There are various techniques being proposed because the US military also have a say. Between restarting a new ‘surge’ or totally leaving the country and letting it collapse, it's hard to know what will be this strategy," Gen. Jean-Vincent Brisset, head of research at the Institute for International and Strategic Relations in Paris, told Sputnik.

Alexandre Vautravers, a security expert at the Global Studies Institute of the University of Geneva, also pointed out that Trump had a number of decisions to make, including, possibly, on renewed engagement.

"US President Donald Trump has several choices to make with regard to Afghanistan and suggested there could be a new ‘surge,’ which means to get involved and to increase US military presence in Afghanistan," Vautravers told Sputnik.

Less than 10,000 US soldiers are currently deployed in Afghanistan and sending additional troops there is a sensitive issue for US public opinion, as this war has already cost the lives of more than 2,000 US soldiers since 2001. The spending on this campaign may also be questioned, as US taxpayers recently discovered that over the last decade Pentagon had wasted $28 million dollars on Afghan military uniforms with an inappropriate camouflage pattern.

According to Vautravers, most US generals and officers were not in favor of a strong renewed engagement.

"There may be some generals and military officers who may think about a ‘surge’ and encourage this way of thinking but it's not the case of the majority of them. The realistic way which is followed practically for 5-6 years by the US Army is to disengage absolutely from Afghanistan, to reduce the number of troops to what is strictly necessary, using these forces for punctual missions, and to conserve resources, means and staff for training the Afghan National Army. A doctrine was published in 2010 and it made it clear. NATO doctrine talks about capacity-building, creating local capacities. We don't want to fight for or on behalf of Afghans as it used to be in the past," Vautravers explained.

According to the expert, the US Army has become reluctant to engage in decade-long military operations in Afghanistan.

"The US Army is not ready anymore to redo the campaign of Afghanistan. If you look at its doctrine it's going in the opposite direction. Since 2010, the US Army doesn't want to hear anymore about counter-insurgency, or about military operations lasting for 10,12 or 15 years. In short the US Army has turned the page," Vautravers added.

Brisset explained that the United States’ previous strategies did not work with regard to the Taliban movement (banned in Russia), whose capabilities have recently grown.

"Currently it's not working for the United States as the Taliban are rising again and the operations led yesterday show that the Taliban have now the capacity to lead military operations while during the last three months they limited themselves to terrorist attacks. Now we're facing large scale Taliban military operations and it's relatively new. Either the United States totally leaves the country or they increase their power there. The solution considered by the US administration and officials close to Trump is to make a deal with Pakistan to commit it seriously in this issue. It could lead to the arrival of Pakistani troops in Afghanistan or at least to lock Afghan borders, in exchange for weapons. A US loan of $900,000,000 has been withheld three days ago, the United States had to repay Pakistan for its participation in military operations. There's currently a difference in how this government is working compared to previous ones, it's a power struggle, a ratio of power. It's a change compared to previous diplomatic talks that didn't work," Brisset said.

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While US and Western public opinion is usually opposed to sending more troops as the war against Taliban insurgents is stalling, the threat represented by Daesh could provide some incentive. After the liberation of the Iraqi city of Mosul and in view of the ongoing campaign to free Syria’s Raqqa, the Islamic State could be tempted to increase its operations in other countries like Libya or Afghanistan where it established a local branch, Daesh in Khorasan, also known as Daesh —K.

Vautravers pointed out that one of the peculiarities of the involvement in Afghanistan was the somewhat ambivalent position of its government.

"It's paradoxical, you have on one hand the Afghan government who is asking for many years the US and the international coalition to stay, to not leave Afghanistan, and to not abandon them. And on the other hand it makes from time to time very aggressive comments against the USA and other countries participating to this effort in stabilizing Afghanistan. That's where lies the whole ambivalence. It's not new and unfortunately in the past the Afghan government varied its position and its language according to the audience, should it be the international or the local one. [Former President] Hamid Karzai was a great specialist of this rhetoric: when he was invited in the United States he had a certain kind of speech and while in the [Afghan] provinces he had a totally different one. The durability of such a regime and its resilience is difficult as there can be doubts about it," Vautravers concluded.

The Afghan government is facing two major threats, namely the Taliban and Daesh, but it lacks sufficient resources to tackle them and thus relies on the support of its foreign allies. Foreign military presence in Afghanistan, however, also poses certain difficulties, including incidents such as US airstrikes on Afghan forces or the 2015 strike on a hospital in Kunduz.

In his speech on July 18, Trump stressed that the United States had been engaged in Afghanistan for 17 years and he wanted to find out why, while earlier in July, Mattis admitted that the United States was "not winning in Afghanistan," but vowed to correct that.

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