Rep. Chris Stewart applauds Trump, says sending more troops to Afghanistan could ‘actually win this thing’

Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah Congressman Chris Stewart, gestures toward Major General Jefferson S. Burton, Adjutant General - Army, Utah National Guard as he greeted those in attendance prior to speaking to the Legislature's Veterans' and Military Affairs Commission about his ideas for reforming the VA, Wednesday, August 3, 2016.

Utah Rep. Chris Stewart, a former Air Force pilot, welcomed President Donald Trump’s announcement Monday that he’ll send more American troops to Afghanistan.

The Republican congressman hopes the heightened presence — a still yet to be quantified increase — could lead the United States to “actually win this thing and come home” after 16 years of fighting.

“It isn’t impossible for us to have victory there,” he added.

The president’s decision to escalate the war against the Taliban, which has made modest gains in recent years, comes after his own longstanding hesitation to devote more resources to the fight. He had criticized then-President Barack Obama in 2011 for “wasting our money on rebuilding Afghanistan.”

“My original instinct was to pull out — and, historically, I like following my instincts,” Trump said during his speech Monday night. “But all of my life, I’ve heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office.”

Stewart believes it’s the right call and praised Trump for promising not to devote a “blank check” to the cause. It’s not an unending commitment, the lawmaker said, but it is a chance to wrap up the war in a responsible way without just abandoning the effort.

“Takes courage to do the right thing,” Stewart said on Twitter. “Congress must support our troops in Afghanistan.”

The accelerated efforts come slightly less than a week after a member of the Utah National Guard was killed — and at least 11 others injured — fighting loyalists of the Islamic State group in Afghanistan. Staff Sgt. Aaron Butler, of Monticello, was clearing a building when the structure exploded.

(Photo courtesy of Butler family) Aaron Butler

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, noted Butler’s death in his response to Trump’s proposal.

“These high human costs require us to approach all wars with great caution and respect for the brave men and women who fight to keep us free,” he said.

The senator has advocated drawing down the number of U.S. troops in the country since 2011 when he signed a letter calling on Obama to speedily pull out of the conflict. In May of this year, Lee wrote to Trump questioning his strategy in America’s longest war.

“From 2006 to 2014 the United States had over 20,000 troops deployed to Afghanistan at any given time, with 100,000 military personnel in the country between 2010 and 2011,” his May letter reads. “However, these levels of military activity did not yield the long-term stability or security gains that were desired. How would an increase in the level of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and new strategy achieve a different outcome at this time?”

His skepticism remained Tuesday when he released a statement focused less on the military expansion and more on the war’s conclusion.

“While I am hopeful President Trump truly does want to end our nation’s involvement in the 15-plus-year war in Afghanistan, I still have unanswered questions,” he said. “We are still awaiting more information from the White House regarding changes to the rules of engagement in Afghanistan as well as what future troop levels will be.”

It’s unclear how much support Trump will get in Congress, though his plans include bolstering Afghan police forces and increasing pressure on nearby Pakistan. The timeline is also unknown. Utah Rep. Mia Love said “decisions regarding troop levels and activity should not be influenced by political expediency.”

FILE - In this April 16, 2010, file photo Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, listens on Capitol Hill in Washington. On Monday, June 28, the committee convenes to consider giving President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Elena Kagan, a lifetime appointment as a justice. Hatch has twice served as committee chairman and participated in hearings for 13 high court nominees, beginning with O'Connor. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

Sen. Orrin Hatch suggests the president’s announcement “sent a clear message” about the United States’ effort to combat terrorism.

“Though many questions remain on critical issues, such as troop levels, the overall strategic principles the president shared were appropriate — particularly his insistence on discarding arbitrary political deadlines to meet our national security objectives.”

Rep. Rob Bishop was unavailable for comment.