President Donald Trump reportedly pushed to fire the general in charge of the war in Afghanistan because the United States is “losing” the war, according to a new report Wednesday. The suggestion came during a July 19 meeting with Trump’s national security team, NBC News reports, citing unnamed senior administration officials.
“We aren’t winning. We are losing,” Trump complained during the meeting, the officials told the news outlet. The Trump administration has been grappling for months with devising a new strategy for the 16-year-old war in Afghanistan. Defense Secretary James Mattis promised to deliver one to Congress by mid-July, but nothing materialized.
General John Nicholson has been commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan since March 2016. Trump has not met Nicholson and his military advisers reportedly offered to set up a meeting in order to help ease Trump’s concerns.
In February, Nicholson was the first to call the war a stalemate and said he needed a few thousand more troops to break it.
His tour of duty would be up in 2018. But Pentagon officials have been talking about extending his time in Afghanistan, according to NBC News.
Trump last month repeatedly suggested Mattis and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Joseph Dunford replace Nicholson since he is not winning, according to NBC News. During the meeting, Trump also compared the war to a New York restaurant’s 1980s renovation.
Trump was trying to make the point that those on the ground sometimes have better advice, claiming that the owner of the 21 Club lost money and a year of business in the 1980s after hiring an expensive consultant that recommended getting a bigger kitchen, something the waiters could have suggested.
In reality, the 21 Club closed for two months in 1987 while it underwent a full renovation. In the meeting, Trump also complained that the United States isn’t making any money off Afghanistan’s estimated $1 trillion in mineral resources while China is, according to NBC.
China bought mineral rights in Afghanistan a decade ago, which the United States supported at the time, and has since been mining copper outside of Kabul. Mattis defended Nicholson, according to NBC, and also argued that the United States is losing because it doesn’t have a strategy.
The conversation about Nicholson ended inconclusively, the sources told NBC. In an interview with MSNBC on Wednesday, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, who according to NBC was in the meeting, praised Nicholson.
“I’ve known him for many years. I can’t imagine a more capable commander in any, on any mission,” McMaster said. Asked whether the president had confidence in Nicholson, McMaster said “absolutely”.