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Trump studying options for new approach to Afghan war

President Donald Trump, right, boards Marine One helicopter, followed by members of his staff at Hagerstown Regional Airport in Hagerstown, Md., Friday, Aug. 18, 2017, en route to nearby Camp David, for a meeting with his national security team to discuss strategy for South Asia, including India, Pakistan and the way forward in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Donald Trump, right, boards Marine One helicopter, followed by members of his staff at Hagerstown Regional Airport in Hagerstown, Md., Friday, Aug. 18, 2017, en route to nearby Camp David, for a meeting with his national security team to discuss strategy for South Asia, including India, Pakistan and the way forward in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump is “studying and considering his options” for a new approach to Afghanistan and the broader South Asia region, the White House said Friday after the president huddled with his top national security aides at Camp David.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued a brief statement saying Trump had been briefed extensively on a new strategy to “protect America’s interests” in the region. She did not specifically mention Afghanistan.

“The president is studying and considering his options and will make an announcement to the American people, to our allies and partners, and to the world at the appropriate time,” she said.

The administration has struggled for months to formulate a new approach to the war. But stepping up the fight in a way that advances peace prospects may be even more difficult, in part because the Taliban has been gaining ground and shown no interest in peace negotiations.

Trump met at the presidential retreat in nearby Maryland with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, top intelligence agency officials and other top military and diplomatic aides. Mattis said earlier this week the administration was “very close” to finalizing a new approach.

The meeting participants did not include Steve Bannon, the Trump strategist who has clashed with other members of the national security team over how to proceed in Afghanistan. His resignation was announced at midday. Also excluded: Gen. Joseph Votel, the Central Command chief who is responsible for U.S. military operations in the greater Middle East, including Afghanistan. Votel told reporters traveling with him in the region this week that Mattis and Gen. Joseph Dunford, the Joint Chiefs chairman, represent him in the White House-led Afghanistan strategy review. Votel said he has not talked directly to Trump as part of the months-long review.

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