President Donald Trump has refused to sign off on a proposal by National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster to increase the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, according to a report by Politico‘s Susan Glasser.
According to Glasser, a “heated debate” arose, with McMaster and Secretary of Defense James Mattis on one side, and the President and his Chief Strategist Steve Bannon on the other, which was described by senior officials present as a “s*** show”. The President was reportedly “dissatisfied” with the proposal, which resulted in him “sending it back to his national security team demanding more work”. He later told reporters, “I want to find out why we’ve been [in Afghanistan] for 17 years.”
McMaster’s main foreign policy focus is now said to be increased troop numbers in Afghanistan and a commitment to four more years of significant U.S. military presence in Afghanistan as a prerequisite for starting talks with the various militant groups involved in the country’s complex civil war.
McMaster’s plan was initially opposed by Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who believed such a proposal would not receive Trump’s support, with Tillerson stating “I’m not selling this to the president”. However, the plan was subsequently modified to garner Mattis’ backing for it.
Bannon proposed an alternative plan involving Blackwater’s Erik Prince, a paramilitary figure known for his strong support for Trump during last year’s presidential campaign, and the brother of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. This plan, which Mattis believed “goes too far” in the privatization of the United States’ military engagements, would involve replacing the existing U.S. presence in Afghanistan with small numbers of elite mercenaries.
A report last week by Politico‘s Eliana Johnson and Annie Karni suggested that Bannon has removed himself from many policy discussions within the White House in a effort to preserve his job, but notably has remained engaged in the debate over military intervention, “warning against deeper U.S. involvement” in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. The report suggests that the most influential staffer within the White House’s nationalist camp is now Senior Advisor Stephen Miller, the writer of Trump’s iconic Warsaw speech, who has taken care to maintain a good personal relationship with aides such as McMaster and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner whom Bannon had previously clashed with.