Trump Meets with Mattis on National Defense Strategy

President Trump and Defense Secretary Mattis walk into the Pentagon for a meeting with military leaders on January 18, 2018 in Arlington, Virginia. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis briefed President Donald Trump in closed discussions Thursday at the Pentagon ahead of his unveiling Friday of the National Defense Strategy, which focuses on long-term roles for the services.

Mattis made no comment following the talks in the highly secure "tank" at the Pentagon.

In remarks before he entered the Pentagon, Trump renewed his pledge to rebuild the military but mostly spoke to the effort in Congress to reach agreement on a budget deal to avoid a government shutdown at midnight Friday.

Mattis told Pentagon reporters earlier this month that he would release the unclassified version of the National Defense Strategy (NDS) on Jan. 19. "There will be a classified one that is relatively thick. There will be a shorter one that will basically lay it out, unclassified," he said.

At the time, Mattis declined to go into detail but spoke in general terms of how strategy has to be meshed with the time needed to carry it out.

He cited the current effort to adopt a new strategy for the South Asia region: "So we started thinking about India and Pakistan and Afghanistan" and how the military can work seamlessly amid the economic, political and sectarian forces at play there.

"We reinforced some of our forces there, because we found some forces didn't have the American advisers they needed, and the ones with advisers seemed to always win. The ones without them did not fare so well," he said.

"And then we're realigning the forces in country [in Afghanistan], and we are then going to really come on strong at the reconciliation effort because that's the way this is going to end," he said.

The U.S. continues to be engaged with Pakistan on several levels despite the move by the Trump administration earlier this month to cut off military aid, Mattis said.

"And so this is the ongoing dialogue as we hammer this out. I mean, now that we've created the strategy, then you have to execute it. That takes time," he said.

Mattis' National Defense Strategy is expected to give insights into how the Defense Department intends to carry out the broad policy guidelines set forward by Trump last month in his own "America First" National Security Strategy document, which focused on long-range threats from Russia, China and Iran.

In announcing his strategy, the president stressed the need for allies to do more to ease the burden on the U.S.

"We have made clear that countries that are immensely wealthy should reimburse the United States for the cost of defending them," Trump said last month at an event marking the release of the National Security Strategy.

"This is a major departure from the past, but a fair and necessary one -- necessary for our country, necessary for our taxpayer, necessary for our own thought process," he said.

For his part, Mattis has been less confrontational with allies while also stressing the need for them to spend more on their militaries.

Mattis' top aides have insisted that his National Defense Strategy will be a departure from the past in that it will be a working document setting out realistic goals requiring action by the services.

Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told Pentagon reporters last month, "We will probably talk about the National Defense Strategy a hundred thousand times" in 2018.

"Because if we don't talk about it a hundred thousand times, it will just become a document that lives on a shelf -- and the difference between strategy and real outcomes [comes about] if you marshal resources," he said.

At a NATO summit in Brussels earlier this week, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford told reporters that the strategy is "not a consensus document in the sense that it's the Secretary of Defense's, but he has certainly taken in all the input from the Joint Chiefs and so forth."

"So I think there's a lot of buy-in" from the services, Dunford said.

In addition, "I think if anybody knows Secretary Mattis, or looks at his history, he's not inclined to publish documents or give guidance that he doesn't actually intend to execute," he said.

"Any implementation plan is about leadership, and I have a high degree of confidence that the secretary's going to drive implementation of the NDS," Dunford said.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at

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