WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump will visit the Pentagon Thursday to get briefed on the military's global deployments and discuss potential plans to increase those commitments in Afghanistan and against the Islamic State, defense officials said.
No additional troop level decisions are expected to be announced as part of the visit, which comes as Trump's national security team finalizes its revised plans for Afghanistan and continues to formulate its way ahead against the Islamic State.
On Wednesday, Trump's National Security Council met to discuss the South Asia strategy, a diplomatic and military plan to stabilize Afghanistan. Separately, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday also visited Capitol Hill to brief senators on the administration's plan to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Trump’s visit to the Pentagon Thursday follows repeat trips by Mattis and Dunford to Europe to talk to NATO allies to secure other important elements of the administration’s Afghanistan plan, including getting those allies to extend their presence in Afghanistan, potentially expand their missions to include more counterterrorism contributions and provide approximately 2,000 troops to meet current unfilled billets there.
In the months since Trump took office, Afghanistan’s security has continued to deteriorate despite an escalated air campaign against the Taliban and Islamic State-Khorasan forces. The Washington Postreported on Monday that the coalition had dropped 1,634 munitions in Afghanistan in 2017, three times the amount it dropped there in 2016.
The revised strategy would alter the role for U.S. ground forces, Mattis has said, to allow them to take on a more aggressive role in fighting the Taliban.
Earlier this month, after meeting with NATO defense ministers in Brussels, Mattis said he was ready to finalize his recommendations on the strategy for the president. He has also previously told Congress that a new strategy and new troop levels needed to execute that strategy would likely be ready by mid-July.
However with that timeframe passed, there’s still no decision on the matter, a defense official said on the condition of anonymity.
"It’s not done," the official said. "It’s literally weeks away."
The revised plan takes a regional approach to Afghanistan’s security, Mattis has said previously, and an important part of the plan includes securing Pakistan’s role in supporting a stable Afghanistan and addressing India and Iran’s influences in the country.
But that regional approach may be part of the delay, said Hal Brands, a professor at John Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies.
"Pakistanis can read the writing on the wall as well as anyone can," Brands said.
Without a commitment from the U.S. to maintain their presence in Afghanistan and keep India from increasing its influence there, Pakistan is "really not going to break in a fundamental way with their longstanding proxies there," Brands said.
Tara Copp is the Pentagon Bureau Chief for Military Times and author of the award-winning military nonfiction "The Warbird: Three Heroes. Two Wars. One Story."