The U.S. military said on Thursday it will offer recommendations on the war in Afghanistan to President Donald Trump within the next week, amid expectations of a request for thousands of more troops to break a stalemate with Taliban insurgents.
Theresa Whelan, acting assistant secretary of defense for special operations, low-intensity conflict, testified to the Senate that the Pentagon was completing its review of potential adjustments to U.S. war plans.
“I expect that these proposals will go to the President within the next week and the intent is to do just that, to move beyond the stalemate,” Whelan said.
It has been three months since Army General John Nicholson, who leads U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan, said he needed “a few thousand” additional forces, some potentially drawn from U.S. allies.
Current and former U.S. officials say discussions revolve around adding 3,000 to 5,000 troops. Those forces are expected to be largely comprised of trainers to support Afghan forces, as well as air crews.
So far, Trump has offered little clarity about whether he might approve more forces for Afghanistan, where some 8,400 U.S. troops remain more than 15 years after the Islamist Taliban government was toppled by U.S.-backed Afghan forces.
But Trump has so far consistently appeared to defer to his military on matters of battlefield strategy. That includes in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he has given Defense Secretary Jim Mattis the authority to reset a system of U.S. troop limits.
Since Trump took office on Jan. 20, the Taliban have staged brazen, deadly attacks, including one last month inside a northern Afghan army base where Taliban fighters killed more than 140 soldiers.
It was believed be the deadliest attack on Afghan forces since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.
General Raymond Thomas, the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, testified alongside Whelan and said that beyond more troops, changes to the rules of engagement in Afghanistan were also being considered.
Although he acknowledged more U.S. forces were being considered for Afghanistan, he did not believe more U.S. special operations forces should be among them.
“Right now I think we have an adequate number of my troops, special operations forces on the ground,” Thomas said.
Any increase of several thousand troops would leave American forces in Afghanistan well below their 2011 peak of more than 100,000 troops.
Still, some U.S. officials question the benefit of sending more troops to Afghanistan. To date, more than 2,300 Americans have been killed and over 17,000 wounded.
These officials, who agreed to discuss political deliberations only on the condition of anonymity, said the situation in Afghanistan is even worse than they had expected, and that any politically palatable number would not be enough to turn the tide, much less create stability and security.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali; Editing by Bernard Orr)