What do do with the Taliban?
President Donald Trump is under an enormous amount of pressure over a variety of policy and legislative issues, ranging from tax reform to health care. It is not unfair or unrealistic to expect progress on at least some of those matters.
But rushing into a new strategy for the war in Afghanistan would be a mistake, perhaps paid for with oceans of blood from both Americans and Afghans.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was asked about it Tuesday, during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Some of its members seemed upset that Mattis was not able to lay out a new strategy for the war.
“We want a strategy,” Sen. John McCain snappped. “I don’t think that’s a hell of a lot to ask.”
Mattis told McCain he and others in the administration “recognize the need for urgency and your criticism is fair, sir.” He added it is hoped members of Congress can be briefed on a new plan for U.S. involvement in Afghanistan by mid-July.
Members of the Taliban, who ruled the country brutally for years before being ousted in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, sensed opportunity when former President Barack Obama began drawing down U.S. forces. As Mattis told senators, “the enemy is surging right now.”
It is likely Trump’s new administration was seen as an opportunity by the Taliban. A surge on their part might be just what is needed to convince Americans to abandon Afghanistan altogether.
About 8,400 U.S. troops remain in the country. U.S. military leaders there are asking Trump to send more.
Before any decision on tactics can be made, the Trump administration needs to decide whether the idea is to defeat the Taliban, or avoid more bloodshed by pulling out and leaving the country to them. In that regard, what happened the last time U.S. officials adopted a hands-off policy toward the Taliban ought to be remembered. Then, Afghanistan served as the safe haven for Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida terrorists.