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19 Aug, 2017 13:42

Trump teases ‘decision’ on US strategy for Afghanistan

US President Donald Trump hinted that decisions have been made, “including on Afghanistan,” at a meeting with top US military commanders at Camp David, pushing back on speculation that he is putting off making a decisive strategy call.

“Important day spent at Camp David with our very talented Generals and military leaders. Many decisions made, including on Afghanistan,” Trump tweeted on Saturday.

President Trump met top military officials on Friday at Camp David, Maryland to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and a broader US security strategy for the South Asia region.

“The president is studying and considering his options and will make an announcement to the American people, to our allies and partners, and to the world at the appropriate time,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters following the meeting.

No other announcements were made, apart from Trump’s tweet that had a “GREAT meeting on National Security, the Border and the Military.” Neither the president nor his national security aides met the press following the meeting, prompting speculation that no decisions have actually been made.

Some sort of decision on Afghanistan is a long awaited move which Donald Trump has been promising to make “very soon” for some time already.

The war in Afghanistan, spanning 16 years and the presidential terms of Trump's two predecessors, remains a serious challenge for the US military. Afghan troops have suffered a number of serious drawbacks lately, losing more territory to the Taliban and other Jihadist groups.

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis admitted the lack of a sound strategy on Afghanistan during a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee in June. Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford asked for a bigger budget, as a lack of funding hampered the Pentagon’s ability to “project power.”

Providing more funding with an apparent lack of strategy was questioned by Senator John McCain (R-Arizona). “We can’t keep going like this. You can’t expect a stable budget if you don’t give us a strategy,” McCain said. “Right now, we have a ‘don’t lose’ strategy, which is not winning.”

“We are not winning in Afghanistan right now. And we will correct this as soon as possible,” Mattis conceded, describing the current state of the US campaign as a “strategy-free time.” Mattis promised to deliver an updated strategy by mid-July, but the process has apparently stalled.

The perception of the situation in Afghanistan as a “losing” one was reportedly shared by Trump himself who wanted the US to go “offensive.”

“We are not winning,” Trump said a high-profile situation room meeting in July, as cited in an NBC report. “We are losing.”

Several ideas to 'fix' the situation have been mulled in the US establishment, ranging from simply pouring more money into the military, raising troop levels or even opting for a mercenary-manned force.

The founder of the infamous Blackwater private security company, Erik Prince, suggested in a series of op-ed pieces to “restructure” America’s presence in Afghanistan by replacing US troops training and assisting Afghani forces with mercenaries.

Prince told C-SPAN last week that conventional US forces were losing to “guys driving pickup trucks and wearing flip-flops,” while stating that the “Taliban now are at their best” despite the years of war. Some C-SPAN viewers appeared to be unimpressed by Prince’s suggestion, suspecting him of just pushing for a money grab.

“I don’t want to send my money to Mr. Prince or anyone like him,” said one caller.

Moscow has pointed out one particular failure of the US campaign in Afghanistan – its inability to curb opioid production, which not only provides the main source of income to militant groups, but threatens people worldwide. Despite the US military presence, production is booming, growing an impressive 43 percent in 2016 to reach 4,800 tons, according to a report by Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

This year, Afghanistan is expected to set a new “record,” as opium production and cultivation areas are flourishing.

“We regret to note that the drug situation in Afghanistan continues to worsen. According to expert estimates, a sharp increase in drug production is expected in 2017. The areas under drug crops in Afghanistan have already exceeded last year's figures, and about a third of the country’s population is involved in the cultivation of opium poppy,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement Friday.

“In this context, the US and NATO forces’ unwillingness or inability, despite their many years of presence in Afghanistan, to provide effective assistance to the Afghan government in curbing drug production, which is known to be a key source of terrorism financing, causes bewilderment. According to UN estimates, the “drug economy” accounts for about half of the revenues of illegal armed groups in Afghanistan, estimated at $400 million.”