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US to review Afghanistan strategy after discouraging year

WASHINGTON: The United States is preparing to undertake a review of its strategy in Afghanistan, US officials told Reuters, a year after President Donald Trump begrudgingly agreed to extend America’s involvement in the 17-year-old war after the announcement of his South Asia strategy.

Officials said Trump has shown signs of frustration over the lack of progress since he unveiled a strategy last August that committed to an open-ended deployment of US military advisers, trainers, and special forces and increased air support for Afghan security forces. The goal was to force the Taliban militants to open peace talks with the Kabul government.

Trump was opposed to remaining in America’s longest war but was convinced by his advisers to give it more time. Last year, he authorized the deployment of an additional 3,000 US troops, bringing the total to around 15,000.

Nearly a year later, the current situation is in a stalemate in which Afghan civilians are paying a heavy toll, the Taliban are expanding in rural areas but are unable to capture major urban centres, and the capability of Afghan security forces remains in doubt.

Several current US officials and other former officials and advisers with direct knowledge said the White House had not yet formally ordered the review but they were preparing for a government-wide appraisal in the next few months.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the issue.

“We’ve received some indications from the White House that Trump could ask for a review in the next few months. So we’re preparing for what it would look like,” said a senior US official.

The review would examine all facets of the current strategy, including what progress had been made, the US troops presence, and the prospect of negotiations with the Taliban. It also would include US relations with Pakistan, which US officials accuse of supporting the insurgents, the senior official said.

Islamabad, however, denies the charge, with several Pakistani officials as well the Army irked at the Trump administration’s request to “do more”.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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