0632 GMT February 23, 2018
Top Pentagon and administration officials are recommending an expansion of the US military strength in Afghanistan, presenting President Donald Trump with a stark choice that could threaten his “America First” agenda.
Officials hope that the troop surge would boost Afghan security forces and push back against a resurgent Taliban, but some lawmakers are skeptical.
“We spent billions of dollars. We’ve lost thousands of American lives. We’ve been engaged in this war for over 15 years. And we are still struggling to determine how it can end favorably for the best interest of the United States and the Afghan people,” said Senator Dick Durbin from Illinois.
The senior Democrat urged fellow lawmakers to “ask some hard questions” about the proposed deployment and warned it could lead to “a permanent occupation” of Afghanistan.
“How long will this go on? How long will it be a battle and, when does it become a permanent occupation?” Durbin said during an appearance on MSNBC. “That’s a question Congress needs to face.”
The US currently has around 8,400 soldiers in Afghanistan with about another 5,000 troops from NATO allies. Military commanders are proposing 3,000 to 5,000 additional troops, including hundreds of Special Operations forces.
The extra troops would add to the war’s $23 billion annual price tag, and the added loss of blood is also weighing heavily on the minds of some on Capitol Hill.
The proposal has yet to be approved by President Trump, but he is reportedly close to signing off on the recommendation, which is the result of a broad review of the Afghanistan strategy by the Pentagon, the State Department, intelligence community and other agencies.
The plan is said to give broader authority to the Pentagon over how many troops are required and would call on NATO members to send additional soldiers.
However, details of the latest plan are still scant, and some lawmakers demand a clearer strategy in the war-torn country.
“The president must articulate to Congress and the public what he intends to achieve by sending more of our young men and women into danger, how he will ensure success in meeting those goals, and how he intends to pay for a military escalation,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said in a statement.
Senator Richard Blumenthal, meanwhile, said the potential surge was another reason for Congress to debate a new authorization for the use of military force.
“The commitment of additional ground troops is a very ominous sign of what is to come and what is necessary for the Congress to do if we’re going to have this escalating commitment,” the Connecticut Democrat said.
The latest plan, if approved, would be a turnaround from Trump’s past criticisms of the war in Afghanistan as well as a campaign pledge that he would not let the US get caught up in foreign conflicts.
US Marines returned to Afghanistan’s southern Helmand Province last month, the first such deployment since NATO officially ended its combat mission there in 2014.
Nearly 2,400 American soldiers have died in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion and another 20,000 have been wounded, according to the Pentagon.