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Trump to announce new Afghan, South Asia strategy

Washington, Aug 21 (PTI) President Donald Trump will announce America's new strategy in Afghanistan today, amid reports that his administration could be mulling a role for India in ending the brutal and costly conflict, the US' longest war.

Trump will make his first prime-time broadcast to the nation as president at 9 pm (7:30 am IST, Tuesday) to unveil his new plan after a lengthy period of deliberations to end nearly 16 years long war in Afghanistan.

The president will "provide an update on the path forward for America's engagement in Afghanistan and South Asia," White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said.

The address from the Fort Myer military base in Arlington, Virginia, will follow Defence Secretary Jim Mattis confirmation yesterday that the administration had decided on a new Afghan strategy after "rigorous" debate.

The much-awaited policy announcement comes eight months after Trump became the US president and after criticism from some US lawmakers that he was struggling to make a decision.

Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, had announced his Afghan policy in the first 100 days of his office.

Defence Secretary James Mattis said yesterday that Trump's policy review on the war and the entire US approach to South Asia -- Washington's tortured ties with Pakistan and complaints that Islamabad is tacitly encouraging extremists -- had been finalised.

"He wants to be the one to announce it to the American people," Mattis said. "He now needs the weekend to collect his thoughts on how he's going to explain it to the American people." 

On Friday, Trump had a meeting with national security officials at Camp David to discuss the Afghan strategy. On Saturday, he tweeted: "Important day spent at Camp David with our very talented Generals and military leaders. Many decisions made, including on Afghanistan." 

While Obama's policy focused primarily on Afghanistan and Pakistan, reports said the Trump administration looked into possibilities for a role for India during its policy review.

Months ago, the Pentagon had settled on a plan to send approximately 3,800 additional troops to help strengthen the Afghan Army, which is stuck in what some call a deteriorating stalemate with the Taliban insurgency.

US military commanders have often argued that additional troops would help the US to reverse gains made by the Taliban and other militant groups.

Trump delegated authority to adjust troop levels to Mattis early in his administration, but he has been presented by the Pentagon with a range of options for the path forward, including a complete troop withdrawal and the deployment of up to 4,000 more soldiers to add to the more than 8,000 American forces that are already there.

Hopes that the US could finally leave Afghanistan have been checked by the Afghan government's struggle to preserve order under a resurgent challenge from the Taliban and inroads made by extremist groups like al-Qaeda, ISIS and the Haqqani network.

Following the 2001 September 11 attacks, the US-led an invasion of Afghanistan to defeat the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

The war eventually became the US' longest in history. The Afghan war had cost more than USD 1.07 trillion till 2014 end.

According to fatalities monitoring website, 3,539 coalition soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001, including 2,403 Americans, 455 British and 681 others.

This year, the Taliban offensive against the West-backed government in Kabul increased this summer.

Reports said the the insurgent group in an "open letter" to Trump last week reiterated its calls for the withdrawal of all remaining US troops from Afghanistan.

Trump's address to the nation follows the most polarising chapter of a presidency that has continually exacerbated political divisions.

His handling of the aftermath of violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, earlier this month has sparked outrage and accusations that Trump has tarnished the moral authority of his presidency.

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