Exclusive: Trump's Afghan decision may increase U.S. air power, training
The U.S. Air Force may intensify its strikes in Afghanistan and expand training of the Afghan air force following President Donald Trump's decision to forge ahead with the 16-year-old war, its top general told Reuters on Tuesday.
Air Force Chief of Staff General David Goldfein said, however, he was still examining the matter, as the U.S. military's top brass had only begun the process of translating Trump's war strategy into action.
Asked whether the Air Force would dedicate more assets to Afghanistan, where the United States has been engaged in its longest military conflict, Goldfein said only: "Possibly."
"It's actually too early to tell what this will mean in terms of plus-ups and reductions," he said in a joint interview with Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson.
Still, he acknowledged that the Air Force was "absolutely" examining the possibility of increasing air power, including to support U.S. ground forces, following Trump's promise of a stepped-up campaign against Taliban insurgents, who have gained ground against U.S.-backed Afghan government forces.
Goldfein said the same about providing training to Afghan pilots.
Wilson, who assumed the Air Force's top civilian job three months ago, noted the Afghan military had made strides thanks to U.S. training and equipment, but added: "I think there is a long way to go there, very honestly."
In a speech on Monday night, Trump appeared to answer a call from the top U.S. commander on the ground for thousands of more troops to break a stalemate with Taliban insurgents, on top of the roughly 8,400 now deployed in Afghanistan.
Trump said the United States would not disclose troop numbers, but one U.S. official told Reuters they could start moving quickly. U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Tuesday he would set troop levels following the review by military chiefs.
During the administration of Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, U.S. military officials privately expressed frustration about their inability to strike at many Taliban targets - including training camps - unless they could show a direct threat to U.S. forces or major impact on the Afghan state.