By Idrees Ali
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The security situation in Afghanistan will further deteriorate even if there is a modest increase in U.S. military support for the war-torn country, the top U.S. intelligence official said on Thursday, as President Donald Trump’s administration weighs sending more forces to Afghanistan.
Afghan army units are pulling back, and in some cases have been forced to abandon more scattered and rural bases, and the government can claim to control or influence only 57 percent of the country, according to U.S. military estimates from earlier this year.
“The intelligence community assesses that the political and security situation in Afghanistan will almost certainly deteriorate through 2018, even with a modest increase in (the)military assistance by the United States and its partners,” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said in a Senate hearing.
In February, Army General John Nicholson, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said he needs several thousand more international troops to break a stalemate with the Taliban.
Reuters reported in late April that Trump’s administration was carrying out a review of Afghanistan and conversations are revolving around sending between 3,000 and 5,000 U.S. and coalition troops to Afghanistan.
Deliberations include giving more authorities to forces on the ground and taking more aggressive action against Taliban fighters. This could allow U.S. advisers to work with Afghan troops below the corps level, potentially putting them closer to fighting, a U.S. official said.
In the same hearing, the head of the military’s Defense Intelligence Agency said the situation would worsen unless U.S. trainers worked with Afghan soldiers closer to the front line, their numbers increased and there was greater intelligence and surveillance.
Trump has not been formally presented with the options yet.
Some U.S. officials said they questioned the benefit of sending more troops to Afghanistan because any politically palatable number would not be enough to turn the tide, much less create stability and security. To date, more than 2,300 Americans have been killed and over 17,000 wounded.
President Ashraf Ghani’s U.S.-backed government remains plagued by corruption and divided by factions loyal to political strongmen whose armed supporters often are motivated by ethnic, family, and regional loyalties.
Coats said that Afghanistan would struggle to decrease its reliance on the international community “until it contains the insurgency or reaches a peace agreement with the Taliban.”
(Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by Alistair Bell)