President Donald Trump’s new Afghanistan strategy is in many ways the product of a trio of former generals who urged him to reconsider his gut feelings and recommit U.S. forces to a long-term presence in the war-ravaged country.
Defense Secretary James Mattis, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster — flag officers with battlefield command experience — guided Trump away from his instinct to draw down, warning him about the national security consequences of abandoning Afghanistan to the Taliban and assorted terrorist groups there. (RELATED: Trump Announces Plans To Stay In Afghanistan, Shift To ‘Conditions’ Based Withdrawal)
McMaster gave Trump a black-and-white photo from 1972 depicting Afghan women in miniskirts walking through Kabul, ostensibly to show him that at least a part of Afghanistan had once subscribed to Western norms and could do so again.
The photo was a small nudge in a bigger push by the generals to bring Trump around to their way of looking at the war Afghanistan. Kelly was reportedly instrumental in guiding the president to the conclusion that further military intervention was necessary to guarantee regional stability and ultimately, the security of America and its allies.
“Talking to generals, he realized, you pull out completely and this is what happens: You endanger lives, you endanger American interests, allies, troops, Afghanis who are our friends, and it’s not a stable government,” a senior administration official told WaPo.
McMaster especially pushed back against a plan endorsed by former chief strategist Steve Bannon, a vocal opponent of a troop surge, to hand over military operations to private contractors. When Mattis, Kelly and McMaster planned a Camp David strategy session in mid-August without the soon-to-be-ousted Bannon, it was clear the trio had won Trump to their cause.
In retrospect, Mattis, Kelly and McMaster were always likely to have outsize influence over Trump, given his infatuation with military culture going back to his days at a military prep school.
Thomas J. Barrack Jr., a longtime Trump friend and chairman of his presidential inauguration, told WaPo that the president “views generals with a special respect and admiration that allows him to defer to and consider their judgment and expertise in a different light” than that of other people in his inner circle.
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