Monday night President Donald Trump laid out his plan for moving forward in the 16-year-long war in Afghanistan, extending U.S. involvement and sending more troops. The outlined strategy, besides looking much like past plans, left many questions unanswered, experts said—perhaps most importantly, what will it cost?
“I share the American people’s frustration,” Trump said as he announced the new moves. “The American people are weary of war without victory.”
Yet Trump said he did not want to put an end date on the conflict. “We will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities,” he said.
“Conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables, will guide our strategy from now on,” the president added. “America’s enemies must never know our plans or believe they can wait us out.”
The Pentagon has asked for Trump’s approval of a nearly 4,000-troop increase as part of the broader new strategy.
Trump called for America’s NATO allies to join in the fight. The leaders of the military alliance said Tuesday that they remain “fully committed to Afghanistan” and to “increasing our presence.”
The plan echoes President George W. Bush’s surge of 8,000 combat and support troops to Afghanistan in 2008. And again in 2009, A year later, President Barack Obama ordered a troop surge of 33,000 troops that he then withdrew in 2011.
From 2015 there have been about 9,800 U.S. troops stationed in the country and 25,197 contractors. Despite these efforts the Taliban controls more territory today than at any time since the American invasion began in 2001.
As Secretary of Defense James Mattis landed in Afghanistan Tuesday the Taliban militant group warned that Trump is “wasting” American soldiers lives and that Afghanistan will become a “graveyard” for the U.S.
Trump’s approach is a “hodgepodge” that underscores a “bitter truth” about the U.S. in Afghanistan, wrote Aaron D. Miller, a former U.S. Middle East diplomat and distinguished fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center, Monday.
“There’s neither a military solution nor a diplomatic one now,” he said. The tragedy being that the U.S. “can’t transform nor leave” Afghanistan. Trump’s plan, Miller pointed out, failed to answer three key questions “can we, should we, and what will it cost?”
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Trump did, however, list three key things that are keeping America in the country.
“Our nation must seek an honorable and enduring outcome worthy of the tremendous sacrifices that have been made,” he said, and not allow a repeat of the conditions that led to the rise of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq. He pointed out that 20 U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations are currently operating in Afghanistan.
“I was looking for more of an end date,” said U.S. Army Sergeant Blake Buchanan on CNN during a town hall with Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan after the president’s address. “It would seem like we’re going to be continuing for quite some time,” he said.
The president’s plan also took a beating from the hard-right website Breitbart, which is once again headed by Stephen Bannon, who was ousted as White House chief strategist last week. The site called Trump’s Afghanistan plan a “flip-flop.”
“The speech was a disappointment to many who had supported his calls during the campaign to end expensive foreign intervention and nation-building,” said the site’s lead article on Trump’s speech.
In 2013 Trump tweeted that America should not “not allow our very stupid leaders to sign a deal that keeps us in Afghanistan through 2024-with all costs by U.S.A.” He signed it off, “MAKE AMERICA GREAT!” years before he took the exortation for a campaign slogan.
Yet Trump has ramped up the military presence and airstrikes in “every combat theater he inherited from Obama,” wrote Micah Zenko, a senior fellow and an expert in military operations at the Council on Foreign Relations after Trump’s speech.
“My original instinct was to pull out,” Trump acknowledged in his speech, but said that the things keeping America in Afghanistan overtook that impulse. He said it was up to Afghans to rebuild their own country
“I will not say when we are going to attack,” he said, “but attack we will.”