During the visit, Trump, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin and his top military officials, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford were expected to hold an hour-long meeting in “the tank” to discuss options on both the way ahead in Afghanistan and current operations against ISIS. The tank is a secure conference room inside the Pentagon.
The president was also expected to be briefed on the global force laydown — an overview of where all forces are deployed, a defense official said on the condition of anonymity.
As he arrived at the Pentagon, Trump was asked by reporters whether he was sending more troops to Afghanistan.
“We’ll see,” the president said, without further comment on the plan.
The administration is considering sending up to 4,000 additional U.S. forces to Afghanistan, in addition to asking NATO allies to send more troops, but no additional troop announcements are expected during the president’s visit, defense officials said.
On Wednesday, Trump’s National Security Council met to discuss the South Asia strategy, a diplomatic and military plan to stabilize Afghanistan. Separately, Mattis, Dunford and Tillerson on Wednesday also visited Capitol Hill to brief senators on the administration’s plan to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Trump’s visit to the Pentagon Thursday follows repeat trips by Mattis and Dunford to Europe to talk to NATO allies to secure other important elements of the administration’s Afghanistan plan, including getting those allies to extend their presence in Afghanistan, potentially expand their missions to include more counterterrorism contributions and provide approximately 2,000 troops to meet current unfilled billets there.
In the months since Trump took office, Afghanistan’s security has continued to deteriorate despite an escalated air campaign against the Taliban and Islamic State-Khorasan forces.
The Washington Post reported on Monday that the coalition had dropped 1,634 munitions in Afghanistan in 2017, three times the amount it dropped there in 2016.
The revised strategy would alter the role for U.S. ground forces, Mattis has said, to allow them to take on a more aggressive role in fighting the Taliban.
However with that timeframe passed, there’s still no decision on the matter, a defense official said on the condition of anonymity.
“It’s not done,” the official said. “It’s literally weeks away.”
The revised plan takes a regional approach to Afghanistan’s security, Mattis has said previously, and an important part of the plan includes securing Pakistan’s role in supporting a stable Afghanistan and addressing India and Iran’s influences in the country.
But that regional approach may be part of the delay, said Hal Brands, a professor at John Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies and a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
“Pakistanis can read the writing on the wall as well as anyone can,” Brands said.
Without a commitment from the U.S. to maintain their presence in Afghanistan and keep India from increasing its influence there, Pakistan is “really not going to break in a fundamental way with their longstanding proxies there,” Brands said.