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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 
war.

   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 
Jim Mattis.

   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 
pull back.

   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."


(KA)

 
 
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