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Trump abandons decision on Afghanistan troop levels, gives military authority to decide themselves

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis

One of the most critical decisions facing (sigh) Donald Trump is how to prosecute our nation’s military actions against terrorist groups like al-Qaida, the Taliban, and ISIS. Should the United States increase military activity? Decrease it? Change strategies? We don’t know; campaign-trail Trump would only give word salad-esque answers on the subject, and the rhetoric has only gotten muddier since.

We probably should have seen this coming, but it seems the decision he’s come to is that he’s going to bag it, go golfing, and give the military the authority to set their own troop levels in whichever direction they want for whatever reasons they want. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis:

Yesterday afternoon, the President directed the Department of Defense to set troop levels in Afghanistan. This will enable our military to have greater agility to conduct operations, recognizing our military posture there is part of a broader regional context. […]

This decision is part of a broader strategy we are developing that addresses our role in Afghanistan and beyond. We will present this to the President in coming weeks.

Reading between the lines—and while noting that the “broader strategy” is by the administration’s own admission not yet strategized—it appears that what happened is that Trump was asked to set parameters for what ought to be done in Afghanistan, was presented a range of options, and upon being presented with those complex and critical choices got bored or peeved and told everyone else to do it themselves. The military will now set its own troop levels, and the rest of us, Donald Trump included, will wait to be surprised by what happens.

This is, to be clear, an unusual turn of events.


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