US exploring withdrawal option for Afghanistan

WASHINGTON: The Trump administration, which until recently appeared committed to sending more troops to Afghanistan, is now said to be considering another extreme option: withdrawal.

On Monday, even the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing Washington think tank which has provided several experts to the team reviewing the administration’s Afghan policy, commented on media reports that the United States was turning away from Afghanistan.

“Keeping the US flag flying in an increasingly important and geopolitically challenging part of the world is in America’s interest. Now is not a time to turn our backs on Afghanistan,” said a commentary posted on the foundation’s website.

But The Wall Street Journal insisted that US President Donald Trump’s “reservations about sending more troops to Afghanistan have triggered a new exploration of an option long considered unlikely: withdrawal”.

A reliable Washington news site, Politico, reported last week that President Trump had refused to sign off on National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster’s plan to send more US troops to Afghanistan.

The report claimed that Gen McMaster and several members of the Trump cabinet had eventually agreed on a plan to send a “modest” number of troops to Afghanistan during a meeting last week, but Mr Trump sent it back to them.

Confirming the Politico report, the WSJ added that after failing to agree on a plan to send up to 3,900 more American troops to help turn back the Taliban advances in Afghanistan, “the White House is taking a new look at what would happen if the US decided to scale back its military presence instead, according to current”.

The New York Times reported that the Trump cabinet had apparently been split on what to do in Afghanistan for a number of months. Gen McMaster and Defence Secretary James Mattis both favour deploying additional troops, while Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon are opposed to doing so.

Some media reports also reported that there were serious differences within the Trump team on how to deal with Pakistan. While Gen McMaster and his aides want the administration to stop all civil and military assistance to Pakistan to force it accept the US demands, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and some senior US generals warn that this approach would further alienate Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, August 1st, 2017