August 8, 2017

The Trump administration is reportedly considering hiring 5,500 private contractors to accelerate the conclusion of the 16-year-long war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, USA Today reports. The proposal comes amid reports that the White House is stumped on how to proceed in the conflict, which spanned two presidencies before landing in President Trump's lap.

The proposal is "unprecedented," USA Today writes, with Blackwater founder Erik Prince explaining that the thousands of new private contractors would phase out the U.S. military troops advising Afghan forces in the country. The contractors would serve as "adjuncts" of the national forces, wearing the Afghan military uniform. The plan would also involve a 90-plane private air force that would only operate with the local government's approval.

Concerns about the plan have been raised by Trump's national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, and his defense secretary, Jim Mattis, USA Today reports. Chief strategist Stephen Bannon approves of the proposal. Prince is the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

"At what point do you say a conventional military approach in Afghanistan is not working?" Prince asked. "Maybe we say that at 16 years."

Read The Week's James Poulos on America's failure in Afghanistan here. Jeva Lange

July 31, 2017
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The White House is reportedly considering the possibility of withdrawing "most" American forces from Afghanistan as President Trump's advisers struggle to reach an agreement about how to proceed in the 16-year-old conflict, The Wall Street Journal reports. "It is becoming clearer and clearer to people that those are the options: Go forward with something like the strategy we have developed, or withdraw," one senior administration official said.

There are more than 8,400 American troops in Afghanistan, and talk of sending up to 3,900 more has failed to move forward. Many U.S. military leaders disagree with any plan to reduce troops, claiming that American soldiers are needed to prevent the Taliban from increasing its influence in the region. Yet Defense Secretary James Mattis has noted that America is "not winning" and experts say the addition of a few thousand more troops is not likely to end the Afghanistan war, even as "Trump ran for president saying he'd end foreign entanglements," Politico writes.

"It's a macro question as to whether the U.S., this administration, and this president are committed to staying," the administration official added to The Wall Street Journal. "It doesn't work unless we are there for a long time, and if we don't have the appetite to be there a long time, we should just leave." Jeva Lange

June 19, 2017

With little fanfare, the Trump administration announced last week its plans to send several thousand more troops to Afghanistan to join the 8,400 already stationed in the country. Yet "the White House played down the Pentagon's vaguely worded statement, which referred only to setting 'troop levels' as a stopgap measure — a tacit admission of the administration's internal conflicts over what to do about the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan," The New York Times writes.

Experts say the addition of a few thousand more troops is not likely to end the Afghanistan war, which has now spanned three presidencies, even as "Trump ran for president saying he'd end foreign entanglements," Politico writes. Trump, though, is not calling the shots: He notably delegated the decision to his defense secretary, James Mattis.

But "it's clear that the U.S. cannot win this war militarily," Michael Kugelman of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, told The Washington Post. "The Taliban insurgency seems to strengthen by the day, the Islamic State remains resilient, public anger is building [and] Afghan troops are turning on their American trainers."

Mattis agrees the United States is "not winning," but he told the Senate Armed Services Committee "we will correct this as soon as possible." A strategy, he said, could be expected next month. Jeva Lange

June 16, 2017

The Trump administration has reportedly chosen to send an additional 4,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan, a decision made just days after President Trump authorized Defense Secretary James Mattis to autonomously decide troop levels in the country, The Associated Press reports. An official announcement is expected as early as next week, although Pentagon representatives say a decision hasn't been made yet.

"The United States knows we are in the fight against terrorism," said Afghanistan's defense ministry secretary Daulat Waziri. "We want to finish this war in Afghanistan with the help of the NATO alliance."

The Afghanistan War has now spanned three presidencies, although "Trump ran for president saying he'd end foreign entanglements," Politico points out. The U.S. and NATO allies invaded Afghanistan in late 2001 to oust the Taliban, which had sheltered the al Qaeda perpetrators of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. In 2009, under former President Barack Obama, around 100,000 U.S. troops were fighting in the country. Today, some 13,000 U.S. and NATO troops remain fighting the Taliban, al Qaeda, and the Islamic State, mostly by advising embattled Afghan forces.

Not everyone agrees the additional troops will help. "The security situation continues to deteriorate in Afghanistan and the foreign troops who are here are not making it better," said Afghan lawmaker Nasrullah Sadeqizada. Jeva Lange

June 14, 2017
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President Trump is the commander-in-chief of the U.S. armed forces, but he's increasingly letting his defense secretary, retired Gen. James Mattis, run America's wars. Following his decision in April to give Mattis authority to decide troop levels in Iraq and Syria, Trump extended that authority to the war in Afghanistan on Tuesday, The New York Times reports. The White House is expected to announce the decision on Wednesday, a U.S. official tells The Wall Street Journal. Trump has also handed Mattis broad authority over strikes in Yemen and Somalia.

The U.S. and NATO allies invaded Afghanistan in late 2001 to oust the Taliban, which had sheltered the Al Qaeda perpetrators of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Some 13,000 U.S. and NATO troops are still fighting the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and the Islamic State, mostly by advising embattled Afghan forces. U.S. military commanders have requested 3,000 to 5,000 more U.S. troops for Afghanistan, and Mattis has signaled that he will comply. "The Taliban had a good year last year, and they're trying to have a good one this year," he told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. "Right now, I believe the enemy is surging," and the U.S. is "not winning."

Asked what "winning" would look like in Afghanistan, Mattis said it would "be an era of frequent skirmishing, and it's going to require a change in our approach from the last several years if we're to get it to that position," where local Afghan forces could tamp down violence while U.S. and NATO forces in the country offered advice, intelligence, and airstrikes. More than 5,000 Afghan forces were killed in the first eight months of 2016, and more than 3,000 civilians were killed all year. More than 2,300 members of the U.S. military have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001, including three on Saturday. Peter Weber

November 3, 2016
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On Thursday, NATO announced that two U.S. service members were killed in a battle against Taliban fighters in northern Afghanistan and two more were wounded. The U.S. forces were part of a "train, advise, and assist mission" in Kunduz province, NATO said, helping the Afghan military clear Taliban fighters from an area and disrupt their operations. The Taliban briefly overran Kunduz's capital twice, in 2015 and again in early October, before Afghan forces drove them out with U.S. help.

"Today's loss is heartbreaking and we offer our deepest condolences to the families and friends of our service members who lost their lives today," said U.S. Gen. John W. Nicholson, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. "Despite today's tragic event, we are steadfast in our commitment to help our Afghan partners defend their nation." U.S. deaths in Afghanistan are rare since NATO formally ended its combat mission in the country two years ago. The names of the fallen soldiers will be released after their families are notified. Peter Weber

July 9, 2016
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During a two-day NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland, this week, the United States' allies agreed Saturday to send $1 billion annually to Afghan security forces for three more years, a decision that comes despite their citizens' disinterest in ongoing intervention in the Mideast nation.

The Pentagon already funnels $3.45 billion to Afghanistan's army each year, and the White House said Wednesday at least 8,400 U.S. troops will stay in Afghanistan indefinitely. "NATO and NATO partners will continue to support Afghanistan," said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg a the summit, "but we expect [Afghan leaders] will step up their efforts to fight corruption and to implement reforms."

President Obama announced Friday he will cut his Europe trip for the summit short to visit Dallas, where five police officers were killed Thursday evening. Bonnie Kristian

December 22, 2015

On Monday, a suicide attacker drove an explosives-laden motorcycle into a military convoy near Bagram Air Base outside Kabul, Afghanistan, killing six U.S. service members and wounding two others, U.S. officials said. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack on Twitter. It was the deadliest attack on U.S. forces in Afghanistan since August, and struck as the Taliban is on the offensive, notably making a military push to capture Helmand province, a center of the opium poppy fields that help fund the Taliban's insurgency. Among the U.S. troops killed was New York Police Detective Joseph Lemm, 45, NYPD Commissioner William Bratton said late Monday. Lemm was serving his third tour as part of the Air National Guard.

"The United States condemns this cowardly attack on members of the U.S. and Afghan forces, and we remain committed to supporting the Afghan people and their government," the White House said in a statement. Before Monday's attack at least 15 U.S. troops and six other members of the NATO coalition had been killed in Afghanistan this year. Peter Weber

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