President Trump formally goes before the nation at 9pm EDT Monday—his first such forum since addressing a joint session of Congress in February—to lay out his strategy for the war in Afghanistan. The big expected takeaway: an announcement of an increase in troops with the goal of reversing recent gains by the Taliban—the Los Angeles Times puts the figure at about 4,000. In return, the Afghan government will be asked to clamp down on corruption, among other things. Trump also is expected to make clear that this is not an open-ended war, without providing specifics for a US drawdown. Related coverage:
- Significance: Putting forth his own strategy is a "turning point" for Trump because it means he takes ownership of the US involvement in the conflict, notes the Wall Street Journal. In 2013, as he was pondering a run for president, Trump tweeted that the US should pull out quickly and use the money to "rebuild the U.S.!"
- Generals happy: After a monthslong assessment, Trump seems to have sided with his military commanders, with defense chief James Mattis pronouncing himself satisfied with the "rigorous" review, reports the New York Times. Opponents in the Steve Bannon camp had argued that the US should pull out and perhaps let private contractors fight the battle.
- Riches: Trump has his eye on valuable minerals under the Afghan soil, perhaps as much as $1 trillion worth of copper, iron, and other metals, reports Foreign Policy. He recently met personally with Michael Silver, CEO of American Elements, and heard the mining pitch. "Trump wants to be repaid," says one source, referring to the billions that the US has spent in the nation. "He's trying to see where the business deal is."
- Key quote: Axios reports that Mattis has been using this line in meetings: "Mr. President, we haven't fought a 16-year war so much as we have fought a one-year war, 16 times." That is, he thinks the US has been lacking a coherent, big-picture strategy.
- Pakistan: Part of the broad new strategy is expected to involve a tougher new policy toward Pakistan, seen as supporters of the Taliban, perhaps in the form of less US funding to the country. One reason the decision has taken so long has been the need to convince Trump of this shift toward Pakistan, reports Reuters.
- Current numbers: The US now has 8,400 troops in Afghanistan, and NATO has an additional 5,000. Their main duty is to train and advise the Afghan army, along with providing artillery and air support. But the Taliban has been making gains—particularly the affiliated Haqqani network, based in Pakistan—and the Afghan government currently controls only about half the country, reports the AP. What's more, the UN logged 11,418 civilian deaths in 2016, the most since they started keeping records in 2009.
(Read more Afghanistan war