No Decisions Yet on Sending More Troops to Afghanistan, Somalia
Sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan and Somalia is under active consideration but will likely await the return of President Donald Trump from his first foreign trip, which begins next week, according to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster.
At a White House briefing Friday, McMaster, the White House national security adviser, said, "The president has not made a decision yet on a course of action" in Afghanistan, where Army Gen. John Nicholson, commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, has requested a "few thousand" more U.S. troops.
Currently, there are about 8,400 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, along with about 4,500 from NATO ally and other coalition nations.
The U.S. needs more time to "figure out with our allies options we can bring to the table" in Afghanistan, and "what more can we ask our allies to do," McMaster said.
On Somalia, Mattis said the U.S. would consider adding to the presence of about 50 U.S. troops on an advise-and-assist mission in Mogadishu if the struggling central government in the Horn of Africa nation makes a formal request.
"That's a decision we'll take if it's broached to us, and we'll decide yes or no," Mattis said after a security conference on Somalia on Thursday in London. Trump has already delegated authority to Mattis to set troop levels in Iraq and Syria, but decisions on Somalia and Afghanistan would have to come from the White House.
At the White House, McMaster sought to focus on Trump's trip, which will take him to Saudi Arabia, Israel, Rome and a meeting with NATO allies in Brussels. In Italy, Trump will also have an audience with Pope Francis and meet with troops at Naval Air Station Sigonella, McMaster said.
When asked whether the trip represents a shift in the isolationist tone exemplified by Trump's "America first" campaign slogan, McMaster said, "America first didn't ever mean America alone, ever. America first didn't mean America not leading."
To the contrary, McMaster said, America first also meant "strengthening alliances and partnerships."
He said Trump had stressed cooperating and partnering with allies while "prioritizing the security and interests of the American people." Allies had responded positively to Trump's outreach "in asking them to do more," McMaster said.
Trump's goal on what McMaster called a "historic" trip is to "broadcast a message of unity to America's friends and to the faithful of three of the world's greatest religions" with his stops in Saudi Arabia, Israel and Rome.
In Saudi Arabia, Trump will urge the Saudis and other Arab leaders attending the meetings to "take bold new steps to promote peace and to confront those from ISIS to al-Qaida to Iran to the Assad regime [in Syria] who perpetuate chaos and violence" in the region, McMaster said.
The lieutenant general, who reportedly has balked at use of the term "radical Islamist terrorism" that Trump favored during the campaign, said the president "expects our Muslim allies to take a strong stand against radical Islamist ideology."
McMaster brushed aside questions on the current furor over Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey and alleged Russian collusion with the Trump campaign, but also said the administration is still seeking areas of accommodation and cooperation with Moscow.
He said Trump had made clear that he would "confront disruptive Russian behavior, but the president's looking for areas of cooperation."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.
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