Secretary of Defense James Mattis offered the most detailed view of President Donald Trump’s strategy to turn the tide of war in Afghanistan Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Mattis’s prepared testimony laid out an “R4+S” strategy, which stands for “regionalize, realign, reinforce, reconcile, and sustain.” The strategy hits upon larger themes of Trump’s Aug. 21 address to the American people, when he pledged to adopt a conditions-based approach for withdrawal from Afghanistan that focuses on pressuring Pakistan to crack down on terror safe havens.
The first three R’s emphasize the regional approach the administration intends to take, providing additional U.S. military advisers at lower levels of the Afghan National Security Forces, and pledging to stay in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future. Mattis deployed an additional 3,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan shortly after Trump’s address to carry out this mission.
The ultimate goal of the strategy is “reconciliation,” which entails “convincing our foes that the coalition is committed to a conditions-based outcome, we intend to drive fence-sitters and those who will see that we’re not quitting this fight to reconcile with the Afghan National Government.”
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford echoed to the committee, “this entire effort is to pressure the Taliban and make them understand they will not win a battlefield victory.”
The new strategy will face a significant challenge: The Taliban now controls more territory than at any time since 2001. The Afghan National Security Forces have suffered historic casualties since the end of the full U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan in 2015. Dunford laid some of the blame for the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan on the Obama administration for establishing withdrawal timelines.
The Afghan government is suffering from deep corruption and the Taliban movement have indicated they have no realistic interest in negotiating an end to the conflict. Dunford countered their unwillingness saying that the new U.S. strategy will force the insurgents to give up its resolve and realize that a settlement is the only end to the conflict.
Republican Senator Bob Corker foreshadowed the daunting task Sunday telling NBCNews the U.S. is “likely to have troops in Afghanistan for the next decade.”