In his August speech on Afghanistan strategy, President Trump declared, “We are not nation-building again.” Why, then, was it announced Wednesday that almost 1,000 additional US and NATO troops are being sent to the forever war-torn country? This is in addition to the 3,800 troops President Trump already sent this fall. The deployment will increase the number of American forces there to almost 16,000.
Although Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had initially set a cap of about 15,000 troops in Afghanistan, Pentagon officials reiterated the Secretary’s commitment to “military needs” over “arbitrary” numbers. Under the guise of not wanting to give information to the enemy, Trump and Mattis have insisted repeatedly they don’t want to talk publicly about troop numbers in Afghanistan.
On Wednesday it was revealed that NATO defense ministers were to meet in Brussels to discuss the effort in Afghanistan and hear from allies on how many more troops they’re willing to deploy to the region. After meetings with northern European leaders in Finland on Tuesday, Mattis confirmed that he asked allies to increase their troop commitments.
While US forces have been leading the counterterrorism fight in the country, as evidenced by the increase in US special forces casualties, Mattis has been pressing NATO allies to increase their troop commitments to help train and advise the Afghan forces.
The goal of the steady increases in troops is to reverse setbacks experienced by Afghan forces after the Obama Administration pulled back from the surge. Troop numbers during the height of the surge reached around 100,000, so it is unclear if the Trump Administration is trying to get back to previous levels or perhaps exceed them.
But while Mattis may state that the focus is on building up Afghan forces so they can eventually fight the insurgents without assistance, it’s no secret that his predecessor failed at the same mission. The Gates surge not only failed to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table but may also have contributed to a power vacuum that today allows them to control more than forty percent of the country’s districts.
Since President Trump lifted restrictions, expanded authorities for troops, and increased their numbers in Afghanistan, the Pentagon has moved US special forces closer and closer to the front lines. In addition to ground forces, NATO has promised almost $3 billion to help the United States fund the Afghan military, which is developing an air force, until 2020. Until this is completed, the United States has been the Afghans’ eyes in the sky, recently causing controversy due to reported civilian casualties from air strikes.
So far, the ongoing war in Afghanistan has cost US taxpayers $5.6 trillion, according to a study released this week by Brown University’s Watson Institute. And according to the website iCasualties, the war has taken the lives of more than 2,400 American service members.