- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Trump administration is poised to double down on U.S. commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, all but ensuring continued American military involvement in both countries for years to come.

The White House is weighing a proposal to send between 3,000 to 5,000 more troops to Afghanistan to deal with the deteriorating security situation there, with both the Taliban and Islamic State increasingly active in parts of the country.

With NATO leaders expected to match Washington’s proposed force increases, as many as 10,000 new allied troops may be heading to Afghanistan just as the longest conflict in American history enters its 16th year.

Separately, The Associated Press reported that talks have begun with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to allow for a permanent U.S. military presence in the country even after the Islamic State fighters are ousted from Mosul and other strongholds in the country.

Officials from Washington and Baghdad confirmed the talks to allow American troops to remain in several bases in Baghdad, as well as positions along the Syrian border and near the ISIS-held city of Mosul, the AP reported Thursday.

“There is a general understanding on both sides that it would be in the long-term interests of each to have that continued presence,” a U.S. official told the AP, on the condition of anonymity. Mr. Trump and others have criticized the Obama administration for agreeing to what they say was a too-hasty U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in 2011, with Islamic State eventually filling the security vacuum three years later.

On Afghanistan, Theresa Whelan, who oversees the Pentagon’s special operations forces, said Thursday that the department’s proposals on troop levels could reach the president’s desk as early as next week.

“We are actually actively looking at adjustments to the approach in Afghanistan right now,” Ms. Whelan told the Senate Armed Services Committee, adding that the Pentagon’s intent is to “move beyond the stalemate and also to recognize that Afghanistan is a very important partner for the United States in a very tricky region.”

Roughly 9,000 American service members are deployed in Afghanistan, training and advising Afghan National Security Forces under Operation Resolute Support. A smaller number of U.S. special operations units are also battling the Taliban and a resurgent Islamic State.

Thousands of U.S. troops began returning to Iraq in 2015, in an effort to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces battling to roll back ISIS control in the country’s north, centered on Mosul. Iraqi forces backed by U.S. artillery and air power have retaken the eastern half of the city, and are battling to reclaim the western half in brutal urban combat.

Col. John Dorian, the top U.S. spokesman in Iraq, said Wednesday the Pentagon was committed to maintaining a presence in Iraq once ISIS is flushed from the country.

“Our support to the government of Iraq is going to remain the same type of relationship that we continued with them throughout the [ISIS] campaign,” he told reporters during a briefing from Baghdad.

While an increased U.S. military commitment in Iraq could build on recent battlefield victories against ISIS, the proposed U.S. troop surge in Afghanistan is needed to break the stalemate in the war there. Since the U.S. combat mission ended in 2014, Afghan forces have managed to secure control just over 60 percent of the country.

On Thursday, U.S. Special Operations Command chief Gen. Raymond Thomas refused to characterize the Afghan War as a stalemate, but did question the level of commitment to the war effort by the Obama administration.

“More conventional forces that would thicken the ability to advise and assist Afghan forces, that would absolutely be to our benefit,” Gen. Thomas said.

• Carlo Muñoz can be reached at cmunoz@washingtontimes.com.

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