Trump to announce Afghanistan plans in prime-time address

President Trump will address the nation tonight from the Oval Office to announce his strategy for Afghanistan.

Details are being withheld, but it is expected that the president will announce an increase in American troops to counter recent gains by the Taliban and the growing strength of ISIS.


The move comes after the dismissal Friday of chief strategist Steve Bannon, who voiced skepticism about an increased military footprint in the region and preferred outsourcing some of the duties to private contractors. Vice President Mike Pence and national security adviser H.R. McMaster were said to have encouraged Trump to accept his commanders' proposals to send more troops, though Pence's office said he remained neutral.

Trump has refused to commit to a specific strategy for months, causing angst among U.S. and Afghan military commanders who wanted to boost the 8,400 American troops now in the country. The Taliban have grown in strength in Afghanistan, and Al Qaeda and the Islamic State terrorist groups have gained footholds that have caused the military concern.

According to a White House statement, the president will speak in Arlington, Va., at 9 p.m. Monday.

Trump himself teased the announcement on Saturday after meeting with senior cabinet members at Camp David on Friday.

"Important day spent at Camp David with our very talented Generals and military leaders. Many decisions made, including on Afghanistan," Trump wrote on Twitter. Always a fan of suspense, Trump has kept his precise decision about troop numbers under wraps. He has repeatedly stated in the past that he opposes releasing significant information about military strategy out of concern it helps the enemy.

The announcement of Trump's Monday speech came after Defense Secretary James Mattis also teased a new strategy for how to fight the war in Afghanistan, a conflict the nation has been engaged in since shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.

According to the Associated Press, Mattis, speaking aboard a military aircraft on an overnight flight from Washington to Amman, Jordan, said he was "very comfortable that the strategic process was sufficiently rigorous."

Trump gave Mattis authority over troop levels in Afghanistan, and he was expected to approve sending about 4,000 more troops, but Mattis has yet to significantly augment American forces there.

There will be no "surge" of troops for Afghanistan.  The goal of the increased deployment will not be to roll back Taliban gains made over the last 18 months.  If the number is 4,000, that obviously won't be enough.  Instead, Trump may be trying to stabilize the situation so that serious peace negotiations can take place between the Taliban and the Afghan government.  The U.S. doesn't want the Afghan government negotiating with the Taliban breathing down its neck.  Providing some stability to the battlefield would give the Afghans an opportunity to negotiate a peace they can live with.

Otherwise, why should Trump send any more troops to Afghanistan?  Why not just announce that the U.S. has done the best it can and now it's time to go home? 

I feel certain that over the past several months, Trump received that advice, maybe from former aide Steve Bannon.  And he no doubt fielded suggestions from McMaster to vastly increase troop strength.  Indeed, McMaster and some of the generals have been advocating a much larger force to help the Afghan government push the Taliban back.

But Trump's personal preference is probably closer to Bannon's, and sending half the troops that McMaster has been pushing indicates that the president's patience is growing short.  He harshly criticized his commanders for not doing more with the authority he gave them to conduct the war.  This could be Trump's way of giving those generals one more chance before pulling up stakes and leaving.

The president will also have something to say about North Korea.  The U.S. and South Korea began joint military exercises today, setting off Kim Jong-un again as he threatened a "merciless strike" if the exercises went forward.