Trump added troops in Afghanistan, but NATO still short of meeting its goal

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BRUSSELS — Senior U.S. defense officials pressed their case Thursday for fellow members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to contribute more troops to the Afghanistan war effort, but the response is still short of what top coalition commanders say they need.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that the new number is not yet finalized, but acknowledged that not all NATO military jobs in Afghanistan have been filled — a persistent problem last year when there were hundreds of vacancies.

“We still have some gaps that we are continuing to work on, and we will address them with allies and partners so that we have a troop level, and not only the number of troops, but the type of troops we need to have a mission in Afghanistan next year,” Stoltenberg said at a meeting of NATO defense chiefs in Brussels.

President Donald Trump announced Aug. 21 that instead of pulling U.S. troops out of Afghanistan — as he claimed his instinct said — he was adding several thousand more while loosening the restrictions on battlefield operations. Trump said that he was not interested in nation-building, but wanted an “honorable and enduring outcome worthy of the enormous price that so many have paid” in the war.

As part of that, Trump sent about 3,500 more U.S. troops to fill specific needs, including additional air power, precision rocket fire and medical evacuation. Some of those troops are devoted to the NATO mission that trains Afghan forces, known as Resolute Support, while others are assigned to a U.S. counterterrorism mission called Freedom’s Sentinel. The Pentagon has declined to breakdown how many are assigned to each.

Army Gen. John Nicholson Jr., the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, told reporters in Brussels that the entire “uplift” in U.S. troops approved by Trump has arrived. That puts the total number of American troops in the country at about 14,500, with a few thousand devoted to counterterrorism.

But there remains an unresolved debate about why other NATO nations are not able to fill minimum requirements set forth by coalition commanders in Afghanistan and approved by the alliance. Nicholson has urged NATO for months to fully support what is known as the Combined Joint Statement of Requirement, a detailed breakdown of what is needed in the war effort, but the allies are still short of doing so.

One country that has stepped forward is Turkey. A Turkish official said that the nation will add an additional 50 troops to serve as advisers at Afghan military training centers, and 47 to man a “quick-reaction” rescue based at the airport in Kabul. They also may add additional police trainers and troops who maintain aircraft.