Trump to present new Afghanistan, Asia strategy Monday night

President Donald Trump in a national address will update the “path forward for America‘s engagement in Afghanistan and South Asia,” according to a White House statement issued Sunday. 

The address will take place 9 p.m. Eastern at Fort Myer in Arlington, Virginia. More information was not immediately available.  

The president’s speech comes at the end of a review of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan that has lasted several months and looked at options ranging from adding several thousand more U.S. troops to total withdrawal.

One option pushed by Erik Prince, the former CEO of the private military company known as Blackwater, involved having thousands of private security contractors to fight alongside Afghan troops and police in battle and using aircraft provided by his company Lancaster6 to fly intelligence and close-air support missions.

However, the contractor plan floated by the former Blackwater CEO appears dead in the water, according to a U.S. and Afghan defense official. That plan was rejected by the Afghan government, and was opposed by Secretary Mattis heading into Friday’s high-level meeting at Camp David. The two officials spoke to Military Times on condition of anonymity. 

On Aug. 14, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that President Trump was still considering both withdrawing all U.S. forces from Afghanistan and relying on contractors to fight with Afghans. Mattis declined to say on Sunday which option Trump has selected.

“He really did come in with very different courses of action,” Mattis told reporters while traveling to the Middle East. “I think he now needs the weekend to collect his thoughts about how he’s going to explain it to the American people.”

play_circle_filled Afghan National Air Corps L-39 Albatross jets take off in a formation practice for an aerial parade for Afghan National Day in Kabul. The head of the private security firm formerly known as Blackwater wants to provide a private air force to supplement the Afghan's fledgling fleet.
Blackwater founder wants to boost the Afghan air war with his private air force

Erik Prince, the former CEO of the private military company formerly known as Blackwater, wants to run the Afghan air war with a private air force capable of intelligence collection and close-air support, according to a recent proposal submitted to the Afghan government.

One reason the decision-making process has taken so long is that President Trump often asked his advisers to refine the options presented to him, Mattis said. The president sought advice from a variety of officials, including the attorney general’s office, Homeland Security Department, State Department and Office of Management and Budget.

“The process was rigorous and it involved all members of the cabinet – of the national security staff, I would say, writ large,” Mattis said. “I’m very comfortable that the strategic process was sufficiently rigorous and did not go in with a preset condition in terms of what questions could be asked or what decisions would be made.”

The new strategy will involve the whole region, including Pakistan, Defense Secretary James Mattis said, adding: “It is a South Asia strategy. It is not just an Afghanistan strategy.”

Military Times’ reporter Shawn Snow contributed to this report.

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