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Moulton denounces Trump plan to increase troops in Afghanistan

Representative Seth Moulton.
Representative Seth Moulton.(Drew Angerer for The Boston Globe/File 2015)

WASHINGTON — Representative Seth Moulton, a member of the House Armed Services Committee and an Iraq War veteran, blasted the Trump administration’s reported decision to add thousands of US troops in Afghanistan in the coming weeks.

In a Friday interview, the Salem Democrat said the administration has yet to present Congress with a new strategy for the war-torn region, and in the absence of a broader strategy, Moulton is skeptical about the viability of the troop increase, which was first reported by the Associated Press.

Moulton also fears that this could be the beginning of a large-scale conflict escalation.

“It’s fundamentally unfair to ask young Americans to risk their lives for a strategy that isn’t working, for a mission that isn’t clear, and for a result that is yet to be defined,” he said. “As someone who’s fought in these wars myself, we need to have a clear mission, a clear endgame, and a clear strategy to get there.”

The Pentagon is yet to confirm the reports of increased troop levels, and Trump has been known to change his mind in an instant. However, if the proposal goes through as reported, Trump would send at least 4,000 soldiers, increasing the total from about 8,400 stationed there currently.

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Moulton said he’s unsure how 4,000 new troops could achieve the aims in the 16-year Afghanistan war that hundreds of thousands of troops couldn’t under former presidential administrations. He also questioned the president’s ability to effectively lead a coherent military strategy, given his high propensity for foreign policy flubs in the first months of his administration.

“I have zero confidence [in Trump] because it’s been one foreign policy blunder after the next,” Moulton said. “This administration has threatened our allies, cozied up to our greatest enemy — Russia — and has yet to show any care for the troops.”

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Politically, the Pentagon’s decision would represent a departure from his continuous campaign rhetoric regarding the high cost of foreign entanglements. On Twitter, after news of the increased troop levels became public, many began circulating several of Trump’s old tweets, which blast the Obama administration for not removing American troops from Afghanistan.

“We have wasted an enormous amount of blood and treasure in Afghanistan,” Trump said in 2013. “Their government has zero appreciation. Let’s get out!”

In a break from precedent, Trump recently gave Secretary of Defense James Mattis full authority to set US troop levels in Afghanistan, according to Mattis’s testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee. Generally, troop levels are considered a presidential responsibility, but Mattis praised the hands-off approach as a way of making government more efficient.

Trump, however, will certainly have to answer politically for whatever consequences the increased troop levels bear. As Moulton pointed out, he remains the commander-in-chief.

“What will make this troop increase work when past troop increases have failed?” Moulton said. “The president owes that explanation to Congress, to the American people, and most of all to the troops he’s sending there.”


Astead W. Herndon can be reached at astead.herndon@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @AsteadWH.