Trump Vows Continued Afghan Fight 08/22 06:05
Reversing his past calls for a speedy exit, President Donald Trump
recommitted the United States to the 16-year-old war in Afghanistan, declaring
U.S. troops must "fight to win." He pointedly declined to disclose how many
more troops will be dispatched to wage America's longest war.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Reversing his past calls for a speedy exit, President
Donald Trump recommitted the United States to the 16-year-old war in
Afghanistan, declaring U.S. troops must "fight to win." He pointedly declined
to disclose how many more troops will be dispatched to wage America's longest
In a prime-time address to unveil his new Afghanistan strategy, Trump said
Monday 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 insisted it would be a "regional" strategy
that addressed the roles played by other South Asian nations --- especially
Pakistan's harboring of elements of the Taliban.
"America will work with the Afghan government as long as we see
determination and progress," Trump said. "However, our commitment is not
unlimited, and our support is not a blank check."
Still, Trump offered few details about how progress would be measured. Nor
did he explain how his approach would differ substantively from what two
presidents before him tried unsuccessfully over the past 16 years.
Although Trump insisted he would "not talk about numbers of troops" or
telegraph military moves in advance, he hinted that he'd embraced the
Pentagon's proposal to boost troop numbers by nearly 4,000, augmenting the
roughly 8,400 Americans there now.
Before becoming a candidate, Trump had ardently argued for a quick
withdrawal from Afghanistan, calling the war a massive waste of U.S. "blood and
treasure" and declaring on Twitter, "Let's get out!" Seven months into his
presidency, he said Monday night that though his "original instinct was to pull
out," he'd since determined that approach could create a vacuum that terrorists
including al-Qaida and the Islamic State would "instantly fill."
"We will ask our NATO allies and global partners to support our new
strategy, with additional troop and funding increases in line with our own. We
are confident they will," Trump said in comments echoed by Defense Secretary
Earlier this year, Trump announced he was entrusting Mattis and the military
with the decision about how many troops would be needed. In talking points sent
Monday to congressional Republicans and supportive groups, the White House
affirmed that the troop numbers were up to Mattis and added that the
administration wasn't seeking more money from Congress for the strategy in the
current fiscal year, which concludes at the end of next month.
While Trump stressed his strategy was about more than just the military, he
was vague on other "instruments of American power" he said would be deployed in
full force to lead Afghanistan toward peace, such as economic development or
new engagement with Pakistan and India. Absent military specifics, it was
difficult to assess how his plan might dissolve the stalemate between the
Taliban and the Afghan government.
On one point --- the definition of victory --- Trump was unequivocal. He
said American troops would "fight to win" by attacking enemies, "crushing"
al-Qaida, preventing terror attacks against Americans and "obliterating" the
Islamic State group, whose affiliate has gained a foothold in Afghanistan as
the U.S. squeezes the extremists in Syria and Iraq.
Trump's definition of a win notably did not include defeating the Taliban,
the group whose harboring of al-Qaida led the U.S. to war in Afghanistan in the
days after the 9/11 attacks. Like President Barack Obama before him, Trump
conceded that any solution that brings peace to Afghanistan may well involve
the Taliban's participation.
"Someday, after an effective military effort, perhaps it will be possible to
have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban in
Afghanistan," Trump said. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in a statement
after the speech, said the U.S. was ready to support peace talks with the
Taliban "without preconditions."
Talk of future Taliban reconciliation was one of several echoes of Obama
woven into Trump's plan. Like Trump, Obama insisted near the start of his
presidency that the "days of providing a blank check are over," urged a
regional approach and said U.S. assistance would be based on performance.
Still, Trump was intent on differentiating his approach from his
predecessors --- at least in rhetoric. He emphasized there would be no
timelines, no hamstringing of the military and no divorcing of Afghanistan from
the region's broader problems.
One step being considered to further squeeze Pakistan is to cut foreign aid
programs unless Islamabad clamps down on the Taliban and an associated group
known as the Haqqani network, senior administration officials told reporters
ahead of Trump's speech. Using civilian and military aid as a pressure lever
with the Pakistanis has been tried for years.
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.
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. Even now, Afghan's
government controls just half the country.
In Kabul, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid dismissed Trump's speech as
"old" and his policy as "unclear." But the plan was cheered by Afghanistan's
government. Ambassador Hamdullah Mohib, the Afghan envoy to Washington, called
it a "10 out of 10."
"We heard exactly what we needed to," Mohib said in a phone interview. "The
focus on the numbers has taken away the real focus on what should have been:
what conditions are required and what kind of support is necessary."
Among U.S. elected officials, the reception was equally mixed, reflecting
the deep divisions among Americans about whether to lean into the conflict or
John McCain, the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman who'd criticized
Trump for delays in presenting a plan, said the president was "now moving us
well beyond the prior administration's failed strategy of merely postponing
defeat." House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said the speech was "low on
details but raises serious questions."
"Tonight, the president said he knew what he was getting into and had a plan
to go forward. Clearly, he did not," said Pelosi, D-Calif.
At its peak, the U.S. had roughly 100,000 in Afghanistan, under the Obama
administration in 2010-2011. The residual forces have been focused on advising
and training Afghan forces and on counterterror operations --- missions that
aren't expected to dramatically change under Trump's plan.
"I share the America people's frustration," Trump said. But he insisted, "In
the end, we will win."