Vice-President Joe Biden on Thursday announced that he had reached a deal with House speaker Paul Ryan and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi to boost troops to 17,600 over five years.
The deal has the support of Ryan, and the support of many Democrats. But it still needs to pass the Senate, which is not expected to take up the measure.
It is the first troop increase in years, and comes after the US pulled nearly all its troops out of Afghanistan in 2014. And Congress still has to approve the measure. Even so, the deal was met with excitement by lawmakers and Democrats.
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The deal would move up the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, which was once scheduled to begin at the end of 2018, by six months, and increase the number of troops in Syria, where the US has been training Kurdish and Arab fighters against the militant group Isis.
“We now have 17,600 that we can put in harm’s way,” Biden said. “We can stand with them and stand up to our enemies.”
The deal still requires congressional approval, and it does not mean the US will remain there indefinitely.
Army deputy chief of staff Col Robert Manning said the troop buildup was welcomed by US forces in Afghanistan.
“It allows us the opportunity to train more Afghan soldiers, put more Afghan partners in the fight,” Manning said Thursday. “And that is why we support what is happening in terms of that troop increase, and we will continue to support whatever policy may be decided upon by the president and whoever is ultimately in charge in terms of what we are able to do.”
The Pentagon recently approved plans to add 2,000 troops to the mission in Afghanistan, nearly doubling the current force of about 9,800, in preparation for an increase in combat operations later this year.
Biden joined the House speaker and Pelosi in remarks in front of the Senate parliamentarian’s office.
Ryan told reporters that he and Biden reached the deal on Wednesday evening, shortly after he and the speaker had a lunch meeting at the White House. Ryan called Biden from his car on the way home.
“I think this is the first time in four decades, if I’m not mistaken, that I have actually shook the vice-president’s hand,” Ryan joked.
Pelosi said that Biden asked her to help solve a problem during one of their lunch meetings, and that’s what led to the decision to increase troops to 17,600, instead of staying at 12,000 or 13,000.
“We could have stuck with the 13,000, but I did not think it was appropriate to tell the troops when they needed to go into harm’s way,” Pelosi said.
The longtime speaker laughed and said, “we never really acknowledged this meeting ever happened.”
Still, her comments drew a stern rebuke from President Donald Trump.
Trump seized on the bipartisan agreement to blast Congress for being so divided and for misusing the military.
“I agreed to increase funding for the desperately needed military, and today’s announcement shows that we are finally getting serious about cutting waste and fraud and doing what’s right for our men and women in uniform,” Trump tweeted.
In the Senate, the committee chairman, Republican Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, was excited by the deal, which he hoped would bring about the troop increase sooner.
“I am extremely pleased by the bipartisan agreement to double our troop presence in Afghanistan,” Inhofe said. “In my view, the rapid deployment of additional US forces to Afghanistan is critical to enabling the Afghan government to provide security for the Afghan people, support the government and local forces in their military campaign, and enable us to begin rebuilding our Afghan military.”
Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland said he was confident that a bipartisan deal would get approval, but he cautioned it would only happen with support from Democrats.
“This is not by any means a done deal,” Cardin said. “This is not a prelude to anything. This is just an agreement of the possibilities of what we can do.”