President Donald Trump has repeatedly suggested firing the U.S.’ top military commander in Afghanistan for failing to win the conflict, as his top officials scramble to find a strategy to end the longest-running war in American history.
Trump’s suggestions that top defense officials should consider firing Gen. John Nicholson, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, came during a tense meeting in the White House Situation Room on July 19. Details of the nearly two-hour meeting became public Wednesday after senior U.S. officials confirmed what took place to NBC and Reuters.
During the meeting, Trump criticized the assembled military advisers for what he said was their failure to resolve the 16-year conflict. “We aren’t winning,” he said, according to the officials.
Reuters reported that Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, got into “a shouting match” with national security adviser H.R. McMaster over U.S. strategy, while NBC reported that Trump asked about taking Afghanistan’s minerals – reflecting his concerns that the Chinese are profiting from Afghan mineral wealth while the U.S. foots the bill for propping up the country.
Trump also raised some eyebrows when he told an odd anecdote about an expensive consultant who gave bad advice to one of his favorite New York restaurants, when just talking to waiters might have yielded more useful information – a lesson he suggested could apply to the conflict, NBC reported.
The U.S. role in Afghanistan has been under a cloud for months, as Trump’s national security team attempts to find a strategy that meets his approval. Earlier this year, Trump delegated authority to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to deploy forces in the conflict as he sees fit.
But Mattis’ plans to deploy 4,000 extra troops to Afghanistan in addition to the 8,400 already there – a measure Nicholson said would break the “stalemate” – have been held up pending Trump’s approval for a broader strategy in the conflict. Advisers are due to meet at the White House Thursday to discuss the matter.
Meanwhile, security in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate. A record 1,662 civilians were killed in Afghanistan in the first half of 2017, and the Taliban is stronger than ever, controlling or contesting an estimated 40 percent of the country’s territory. Two American troops were killed in a Taliban attack Wednesday, bringing the total killed in the conflict to more than 2,400.
It’s not yet clear how shaky Nicholson’s position in Afghanistan will be following the remarks from Trump, who has never actually met the general. In an interview with MSNBC Wednesday, McMaster defended Nicholson, saying he couldn’t “imagine a more capable commander in any, on any mission,” and insisting that Trump had confidence in his man in Afghanistan.
But NBC reported that discussions were being held at the Pentagon regarding Nicholson’s future, suggesting he could become the latest in a long line of officials to hear Trump’s catchphrase: “You’re fired.”