Mike Pence is not ruling out sending more American troops to Afghanistan.
The vice president also defended the Trump administration’s strategy in the country, which has been criticized by Democratic lawmakers.
Pence did not knock down the possibility that President Donald Trump might order additional U.S. forces to the war-torn country to join the 11,000 American military personnel already there.
“That will be a decision for the commander in chief in the days ahead,” the vice president told reporters in Afghanistan during a surprise trip there to visit deployed American personnel. “You know, I said today that bureaucrats don’t win wars, soldiers do. And one of the things that you have seen in President Trump, as commander in chief, is he has empowered our battlefield commanders to make real-time decisions.”
Pence defended the Trump administration’s Afghanistan strategy, which is more heavily focused on counterterrorism than the support-based approach the Trump team inherited from the Obama administration.
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“This is as much about, not just personnel, but it’s also about what military people call the ‘authorities’ that we have been given,” Pence said of the Trump strategy.
The administration’s goal for the 16-year-old U.S. operation “is to not fight the war against terrorists for the people of Afghanistan,” Pence said, according to a pool report.
Rather, it is focused on combating groups that aim to “threaten the people of the United States from Afghanistan, and those who would threaten the peace and security of the people of Afghanistan.”
The administration has changed U.S. force’s ability to provide more lethal air support to Afghan troops, he said.
The VP also made clear the Obama-era troop drawdown there is over.
“It’s also to send a message,” Pence said of President Donald Trump’s strategy, which was hailed by GOP lawmakers and questioned by Democrats. “We’re here to stay. We’re here to stay until they’re defeated, until freedom wins.”
Trump announced his counterterrorism-based Afghanistan plan in August, and national security-focused Democratic members reacted skeptically.
Senate Armed Services ranking member Jack Reed, D-R.I., for instance, said Trump’s remarks that night were “short on the details our troops and the American people deserve.”
“I know Americans are weary of the war in Afghanistan,” Reed said in August. “President Trump has a duty to set a clear strategy for Afghanistan. Tonight’s speech is a long overdue step, but more important will be the details and an accompanying commitment by this President going forward.”