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Trump Administration Outlines Emerging Strategy On Afghanistan


President Trump is now the third commander in chief to oversee America's war in Afghanistan. The White House is in the middle of reviewing policy when it comes to Afghanistan and its neighbor Pakistan. Our correspondent Tom Bowman has been following that effort and joins us now. Hi there.


SHAPIRO: There have been so many different approaches to this war over the years. What is going to be new about the approach that the Trump administration is planning to take?

BOWMAN: Well, we don't have a lot that's new. I mean, the objectives are really the same - build an Afghan army that's competent, that can handle security, help the Afghan government deliver services to the people, and deny al-Qaida and other terrorist groups any safe havens in Afghanistan. And then eventually put pressure on the Taliban so they'll negotiate. Everyone has said from almost day one there's no military solution here. There has to be some sort of a diplomatic - a political solution.

SHAPIRO: But if the overarching goal is the same, you're at least hearing that the tactics are going to be somewhat different.

BOWMAN: Right. They're going to put a lot more pressure on the Taliban issue. You're going to see more U.S. airstrikes, more artillery strikes from U.S. forces. You're also going to see up to 4,000 more U.S. soldiers head over there, mostly in a training role. What they want to do is build up the Afghan air force. They only have a handful of warplanes and attack helicopters now and not too many pilots. They want to really increase that so the U.S. doesn't have to be their air force. The other thing they want to do, Ari, is build up the commando force. These are the most highly trained Afghan soldiers, very good. They need thousands more of those folks as well. So you're going to see that this year.

SHAPIRO: And as the military effort is increasing, there's also the question of the diplomatic effort and how that can continue with all of these high-level vacancies at the State Department.

BOWMAN: You know, that is going to be a problem. You do need competent people in the State Department that are well-versed on these issues of Afghanistan and Pakistan. We don't have that. We have a lot of vacancies. So that is a problem. And a lot of the strategy the way ahead in Afghanistan is being run under the National Security Council. So you do need some good State Department players here. And at this point, they believe they're just not there.

SHAPIRO: Talk about the way the Trump administration plans to approach Pakistan, Afghanistan's very complicated and very crucial neighbor.

BOWMAN: Ari, that could be a key part of the upcoming strategy. For years now the Taliban and their allies have had safe havens right across the border from Afghanistan in Pakistan - the Haqqani network, for example. They were the ones that - believed to have been a part of the attack in Kabul just recently that killed at least 150 people. They have been killing Afghan soldiers and American soldiers now for years. So the question is what do you do about those safe havens?

For years now, the U.S. has tried to pressure Pakistan to go after the Haqqani network. They've withheld money. They've cajoled. They've pleaded. I believe under this administration they're going to put a lot more pressure on Pakistan to do more. And they may actually start attacking the Haqqani network more across the border into Pakistan. So look for that. That could be very key here.

SHAPIRO: So, Tom, no more talk of a drawdown under this administration.

BOWMAN: Absolutely no more talk of a drawdown. One of the things that Obama did, of course, was talk about timelines, reducing numbers of troops over a certain amount of time. That has all ended now. There's no talk of specific times, of pulling troops out or when this will end. This longest war in American history will continue clearly for years.

SHAPIRO: Tom, while you're here in the studio, I want to ask you about something else that came out this week, which was the government of Iraq saying that the caliphate - ISIS' state, in effect - was done. Is there any truth to that?

BOWMAN: It's not done quite yet. There are still a number of ISIS fighters in Mosul. They're down to the last neighborhood. It's a very dense neighborhood with narrow alleyways and streets, curved streets. The Pentagon expects it could be a couple of weeks now before Mosul is actually taken back. But it's still a very tough fight.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Pentagon correspondent, Tom Bowman. Thank you.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.