Arlington, VA – President Donald Trump addressed his cabinet and various military personnel at Fort Meyer yesterday as he laid down his administration’s policies and strategies for Afghanistan. Trump campaigned on reducing military involvement abroad and vowed to end America’s “needless and disastrous” wars, especially the one in Afghanistan. Yesterday however, in a 26-minute long national address, POTUS made a u-turn and advocated for increased military in the region. This comes in the wake of a full review of the previous administration’s ‘Afghan policy’.
Afghanistan remains one of the poorest and most corrupt countries in the world. It checks all boxes that could lead to instability: a corrupt, weak government and a resurgent Taliban. Still, victory in Afghanistan has eluded Trump’s predecessors. Despite Bush’s launch in the wake of 9/11 and Obama’s ‘surge’ to 100,000 troops, at its highest point, the region could not be rid of conflict and instability.
Over the years, a myriad of balances have been sought, in terms of military and diplomatic forces/involvement, only to find Afghanistan at the weakest since US boots first stepped on the ground. Trump, too, offered up some of these options. He called out immediate neighbors to the east, Pakistan, seemingly offering them a ‘clean slate’ if they stopped harboring and training terrorists in havens. He even touched upon India’s continued support of stability in Afghanistan and asked for increased help in areas of economic assistance and development (India has provided $3 billion in aid to Afghanistan since 2001).
Trump outlined new ‘pillars’ on Afghan policy and detailed the administration’s goals in the region. “Dismantling al-Qaeda” and “preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan” were met with criticism of being too vague and broad. Further, steering away from “time-commitments”, leaves a sense of un-ending war, one that has already lasted 16 years without much desired impact.
Trump acknowledged that his position on Afghanistan has changed since taking office. What this means for his “America First” manifesto is yet to be realized, especially with a war that seems to have no end. “My original instinct was to pull out,” he confessed as he laid out ‘three fundamental conclusions’ – all of which appeal to patriotism and nationalistic pride. An honorable, enduring outcome; wary of power vacuums; an immense security threats emanating from the region – all, potentially, resonating for his base.
If anything came at a premium during this address, it was finer details. Trump has often criticized former Presidents, especially Obama, for publicly announcing timelines and strategies. He unveiled this will no longer be the case as the administration switches from a “time-based” approach to one based on conditions-on-the-ground. “America will work with the Afghan government as long as we see determination and progress,” Trump noted. “However, our commitment is not unlimited, and our support is not a blank check.”
Currently, there are about 8,500 troops in Afghanistan. In the fight against the Taliban and Islamic State fighters, these soldiers serve as training hubs for Afghan fighters. With threats increasing on the ground, a 4,000-troop increase has been rumored to be circling around the Pentagon.
Members of the military, especially the ones well-versed with the region and the insurgency, have advocated for more troops since they can expedite training and make Afghans more capable of taking the enemy alone. “We need guardian angels,” said Lt. Col. John Sandor, deputy senior adviser for the Afghan Army’s 201st Corps, referring to security forces that would protect U.S. training teams so they can work alongside Afghan brigades.
Source: Image courtesy: The Atlantic.