Despite expected US troop hike, no end in sight to Afghan war

August 22, 2017 03:15
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WASHINGTON - While President Donald Trump's expected decision to beef up U.S. forces in Afghanistan could help reverse Taliban gains and bring more US firepower against al Qaeda, there is scant chance it will hasten a conclusion to America’s longest war.

“There is no quick fix to this problem,” said Bill Roggio, an insurgency expert with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based policy institute. “Things will continue looking bleak for some time.”

Trump is likely to open the door to a modest increase to the 8,400 U.S. troop level in Afghanistan when he lays out his strategy on Monday night for a military conflict that began in 2001, US officials said.

The Trump administration's strategy also is expected to allow US advisers closer to combat, intensify special forces operations against al Qaeda and boost military aid to Kabul, US officials participating in the strategy discussions said.

The decision to prolong the commitment would contrast with the expectations of Trump's political base that he would extract the United States from a war estimated to have cost more than $700 billion and claimed the lives of more than 2,400 U.S. service members.

But Trump, who has railed against the war for years, finds himself boxed in.

Taliban advances are raising the specter of a repeat of 1996, when Islamist militants seized power and provided al Qaeda with a sanctuary in which to plot the Sept. 11, 2011, attacks in New York and Washington. Moreover, the Afghan government is plagued by ethnic and political rifts and corruption and controls less than 60 percent of the country, similar circumstances during the Taliban's 1996 takeover.

“The choice is between losing and not losing. Winning really isn’t an option,” said James Dobbins, who served as the US special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan during the presidency of Barack Obama and is now a senior fellow at the RAND Corporation.

"He (Trump) can lose quickly by withdrawing, he can lose slowly by standing pat" said Dobbins, adding that Trump "could not lose" by marginally increasing the US force.

The ostensible goal of Trump’s strategy would be to help Afghan security forces reverse Taliban advances and create a military stalemate that eventually would compel rebel leaders to agree to a diplomatic resolution of the conflict.

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