The U.S. military is drawing up plans to send as many as 1,000 new troops to Afghanistan by this spring, a move that would boost troop levels to nearly twice the number present in the country before President Donald Trump ordered an escalation last year.
The additional deployment would bring total U.S. forces in Afghanistan to about 15,000, up from the estimated 14,000 that are there now, reports the Washington Post, citing senior Pentagon officials.
There were about 8,500 troops in Afghanistan in August 2017, when Trump reluctantly authorized a troop surge as a part of the administration’s broader strategy for South Asia.
The potential increase in forces is backed by the Army’s senior command, though Defense Secretary James Mattis has not yet signed off on the plans. Military planners want to send additional troops to help Afghan forces in time for the upcoming fighting season, which typically begins in April after Afghanistan’s frigid winters.
Trump has given the Pentagon free rein to become more aggressive in Afghanistan, loosening rules of engagement and increasing airstrikes against both Taliban and ISIS fighters. U.S. commanders have responded with a threefold increase in bombings over the number in 2016, along with stepped up strikes against the Taliban’s opium production facilities.
U.S. Forces Afghanistan did not specifically ask for an increase in troop levels this spring, reports WaPo. Any additional deployment would be considered an adjustment to the Pentagon’s current war plan, not a new strategy.
The essential component of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan involves the formation of combat advisory teams at the battalion level, which deploy in support of Afghan government forces near the front lines of the fighting. Gen. John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said last fall that additional U.S. advisers will help the Afghan military take control of 80 percent of the country over the next two years.
U.S. forces face an uphill climb in attaining that goal, according to recent inspector general reports on the war effort in Afghanistan. The Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction said last year that Afghan forces face a robust Taliban insurgency, increasing casualties, and recruitment shortfalls.
SIGAR also revealed the Taliban control nearly 40 percent of the entire country and one-third of the population.
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