US defense secretary Jim Mattis said August 14 "all options — from withdrawal, to using private contractors, to adding thousands of US forces to the fight — remain on the table for Afghanistan."
Mattis repeated the White House and Pentagon were 'very close' to finalizing a new strategy to present to President Trump.
Mattis, along with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster have worked for months to craft strategy options for President Donald Trump.
Mattis said both withdrawal and a private contracted force were still under consideration. "The strategic decisions have not been made," Mattis said. "It's part of the options being considered."
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. (DOD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)
Military Times previously reported on Trump supporter and former Blackwater CEO Erik Prince's efforts to outsource the now 16-year Afghan war to private contractors, including offering a privatized air force for Afghanistan.
Military Times also reported that Gen. John Nicholson, commander of US Forces-Afghanistan, has refused to meet with Prince. It is not clear whether that refusal has frustrated Trump.
According to NBC News, Trump has asked both Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford to replace Nicholson as the top US general in Afghanistan. due to the president's frustration with how that campaign is going.
On August 14, Mattis defended Nicholson, saying he "of course" supports him. But Mattis could not say whether the White House similarly supported him.
Gen. John Nicholson. (Dept. of Defense photo)
"Ask the president," Mattis said. "[Nicholson] has the confidence of NATO. He has the confidence of the United States."
The new strategy for Afghanistan was expected about a month ago. Mattis said he was still confident a decision was close.
"We are sharpening each of the options so you can see the pluses and minuses of each one so that there's no longer any new data you are going to get, now just make the decision."