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Trump to unveil Afghanistan strategy after struggling with decision

President Donald Trump plans to unveil his new strategy for Afghanistan in an evening address to the nation on Monday, after struggling with the decision for months amid heavy lobbying from some of his top aides.

Trump is expected to approve sending at least 3,500 more troops to Afghanistan, according to two sources with knowledge of the discussions, though the White House appears to be keeping a tight hold on the details of exactly what the president will say. He is expected to deepen U.S. involvement in the region and indicate a more traditional approach to foreign policy than he promised on the campaign trail.

The move comes after the dismissal Friday of chief strategist Steve Bannon, who voiced skepticism about an increased military footprint in the region and preferred outsourcing some of the duties to private contractors. Vice President Mike Pence and national security adviser H.R. McMaster were said to have encouraged Trump to accept his commanders’ proposals to send more troops, though Pence’s office said he remained neutral.

Trump has refused to commit to a specific strategy for months, causing angst among U.S. and Afghan military commanders who wanted to boost the 8,400 American troops now in the country. The Taliban has grown in strength in Afghanistan, and Al Qaeda and the Islamic State terrorist groups have gained footholds that have caused the military concern.

According to a White House statement, the president will speak in Arlington, Virginia, at 9 p.m. Monday.

Trump himself teased the announcement on Saturday after meeting with senior Cabinet members at Camp David on Friday.

“Important day spent at Camp David with our very talented Generals and military leaders. Many decisions made, including on Afghanistan,” Trump wrote on Twitter. Always a fan of suspense, Trump has kept his precise decision about troop numbers under wraps. He has repeatedly stated in the past that he opposes releasing significant information about military strategy out of concern it helps the enemy.

The announcement of Trump’s speech Monday came after Defense Secretary James Mattis also teased a new strategy for how to fight the war in Afghanistan, a conflict in which the nation has been engaged since shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

According to The Associated Press, Mattis, speaking aboard a military aircraft on an overnight flight from Washington to Amman, Jordan, said he was “very comfortable that the strategic process was sufficiently rigorous.”

Trump gave Mattis authority over troop levels in Afghanistan, and he was expected to approve sending about 4,000 more troops, but Mattis has yet to significantly augment American forces there.

The seemingly endless conflict in Afghanistan has been the subject of significant debate within the administration. The president has at times expressed skepticism about the possibility of winning a war there. “I want to find out why we’ve been there for 17 years,” he told reporters at one point.

In June, Mattis told a Senate panel: “We are not winning in Afghanistan.”

The panel’s chair, Arizona Republican John McCain, challenged Mattis on the subject, long a sore point among America’s hawks.

“We want a strategy, and I don’t think that’s a hell of a lot to ask,” McCain said. “We’re now six months into this administration. We still haven’t got a strategy for Afghanistan. It makes it hard for us to support you when we don’t have a strategy.”

Nahal Toosi contributed to this report.

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