Before he became president, Donald Trump rarely talked about Afghanistan. When he did, he often called for a swift end to America’s longest war. But on Monday, Trump announced to the nation that the war will press on, with no clear end in sight. His prime-time address cemented his standing as the third American president to oversee a conflict that has vexed Republicans and Democrats alike.
He declared: “In the end, we will win.”
Trump’s plans, while vague at times, amount to a victory for the military men increasingly filling Trump’s inner circle and a stinging defeat for the nationalist supporters who saw in Trump a like-minded skeptic of U.S. intervention in long and costly overseas conflicts. Chief among them is ousted adviser Steve Bannon, whose website Breitbart News blared criticism Monday of the establishment’s approach to running he war.
“What Does Victory in Afghanistan Look Like? Washington Doesn’t Know,” read one headline.
Now Trump leads Washington and that question falls for him to answer. He has seized on his mantra “America First,” but so far has spent little time explaining how that message translates to U.S. involvement in a war across the globe, likely for years to come.
References to Pakistan
President Donald Trump says the U.S. “can no longer be silent” about terrorist safe havens in Pakistan.
He says Pakistan often gives sanctuary to “agents of chaos, violence and terror,” and says the Taliban and other groups there pose a threat to the region and beyond.
Trump outlined his administration’s strategy to the war in neighboring Afghanistan. He says a pillar of that strategy is a change in the U.S. approach to Pakistan. But he added that Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with the U.S. and much to lose from harboring terrorists.
No blank check in commitment with Afghanistan
Declaring the U.S. will win “in the end,” President Donald Trump vowed Monday night to keep American troops fighting in Afghanistan despite his earlier inclination to withdraw. But he insisted the U.S. would not offer “a blank check” after 16 years of war, and he pointedly declined to say whether or when more troops might be sent.
In his prime-time address billed as the unveiling of his new Afghanistan strategy, Trump said the U.S. would shift away from a “time-based” approach, instead linking its assistance to results and to cooperation from the beleaguered Afghan government, Pakistan and others. He offered few details about how that approach would differ substantively from what the U.S. has already tried unsuccessfully under the past two presidents.
“We will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities,” Trump said. “Conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables, will guide our strategy from now on.”
Trump said his “original instinct was to pull out,” alluding to his long-expressed view before becoming president that Afghanistan was an unsolvable quagmire requiring a fast U.S. withdrawal. Since taking office, Trump said, he’d determined that approach could create a vacuum that terrorists including al-Qaida and the Islamic State could “instantly fill.
In the end…
Ahead of his speech, U.S. officials said they expected the president to go along with a Pentagon recommendation to send nearly 4,000 new troops, boosting the total of 8,400 in Afghanistan now. At its peak, the U.S. had roughly 100,000 there, under the Obama administration in 2010-2011.
Trump’s speech concluded a months-long internal debate within his administration over whether to pull back from the Afghanistan conflict, as he and a few advisers were inclined to do, or to embroil the U.S. further in a war that has eluded American solutions for the past 16 years. Several times, officials predicted he was nearing a decision to adopt his commanders’ recommendations, only to see the final judgment delayed.
The Pentagon has argued the U.S. must stay engaged to ensure terrorists can’t again use the territory to threaten America. Afghan military commanders have agreed, making clear they want and expect continued U.S. military help. But elected officials in the U.S. have been mixed, with many advocating against sending more troops.
And while Trump has pledged to put “America First,” keeping U.S. interests above any others, his national security advisers have warned that the Afghan forces are still far too weak to succeed without help. That is especially important as the Taliban advance and a squeezed Islamic State group looks for new havens beyond Syria and Iraq. Even now, Afghan’s government controls just half the country.
In the end…, we don’t know much about what will happen next.
Trump’s years of tweets calling for U.S. to leave Afghanistan is now one more flip-flop of the sitting president. He posted a number of tweets about the war in Afghanistan in 2011, 2012, and 2013, calling for the U.S. to end its involvement in the country. He now plans—though we do not know when nor how many—to send more troops to Afghanistan to help push back the Taliban and ISIS groups, and his decision is a loss for the “America-first” element of the Trump administration.
A final take
In 2013 he appeared dismayed about the prospect of keeping 20,000 troops “there for many more years,” adding the next day, “We have wasted an enormous amount of blood and treasure in Afghanistan.”
“Do not allow our very stupid leaders to sign a deal that keeps us in Afghanistan through 2024-with all costs by U.S.A. MAKE AMERICA GREAT!” he wrote on Nov. 21, 2013.
Just five days after taking office, Trump spoke to ABC News’ David Muir at the White House and referenced Afghanistan. Trump and his team have since been developing the administration’s policy for Afghanistan.
The plan for Afghanistan has evolved into what is now known as the South Asia strategy and includes regional considerations for neighboring countries like Pakistan, India, China and Russia.
Reversing his past calls for a speedy exit, President Donald Trump renewed the United States’ commitment Monday to the 16-year-old war in Afghanistan, declaring that U.S. troops must “fight to win.”