US Defense Secretary said on Monday that “all options” remained on the table over a new strategy for Afghanistan and “full withdrawal” is also possible.
Full Withdrawal From Afghanistan Is An Option: Mattis
The US Defense Secretary James Mattis said at a press conference on Monday that President Donald Trump's administration was "very, very close" to finalising its new strategy for Afghanistan but warned it had not been settled yet.
"The strategic decisions have not been made," Mattis said adding that "all options" remained on the table for how to approach Afghanistan, and said those options included a full withdrawal as well as a proposal for the use of more contractors to manage the US effort there.
Mattis added that all options for a new strategy in Afghanistan, including the use of private security contractors, remain under consideration by Trump.
The plans could lead to sending an additional 3,000-4,000 US troops to Afghanistan, but the president reportedly has been frustrated by his options in the nearly 16-year-old conflict and has considered firing the US commander in Afghanistan.
"We're sharpening each one of the options," Mattis said. "You can see the pluses and minuses of each one so that there's no longer any new data you are going to get. Now, just make the decision. There's the options."
In response to a question on whether Trump had confidence in Gen. John Nicholson, the US and NATO commander in Afghanistan, he said: “He is our commander in the field. He has the confidence of NATO.”
“He has the confidence of Afghanistan. He has the confidence of the United States, and the President again is looking at all aspects of our effort over there as he must in his responsibilities as the commander-in-chief,” he said.
In the meantime, Zamir Kabulov, special representative of the Russian President in Afghanistan said that the military campaign of the US army in Afghanistan is "failing", and as such the US needs to withdraw its contingent from the country.
"Moscow has never hastened withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan. But as far as the US army cannot do anything, let them leave Afghanistan. The American campaign in Afghanistan has failed. Afghanistan can become the world incubator of international terrorism. Actually, it partially is," he said in an interview with Izvestiya newspaper.
Russia is however against the replacement of the regular US army with contract soldiers in Afghanistan.
"The US is in despair; the plan to change the professional soldiers into contract soldiers is nonsense. It will not bring anything good: contract soldiers will simply escape. They conscript them for the money from all over the world. How are they going to fight against the Taliban," he added.
Nearly 16 years after the US led a coalition to bring down the Taliban, US-led forces and the new Afghan government have struggled to stabilize the country and push back the Taliban.
Last week, US Senator John McCain revealed his own strategy for the United States in Afghanistan because Trump's administration isn't coming up with one, he said.
McCain's Afghan strategy includes adding more US troops for counter terrorism missions; increasing US air power to assist Afghan forces; and providing the US military with broader authority to target enemy forces including the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, al-Qaeda and Daesh.
McCain also would have the US military advising Afghan forces at a battalion level.
McCain wants his country to enter into an agreement with the Afghan government for an enduring US counter-terrorism presence in Afghanistan, and he wants to put more pressure on Pakistan to stop providing sanctuaries to the Taliban and Haqqani Network.
The White House has been divided between two factions, with the US national security adviser HR McMaster seeking to bolster American troops in Afghanistan, and Trump's chief strategist Steve Bannon opposing additional US forces, according to reports.