Trump’s New Afghanistan Plan Sounds A Lot Like Obama’s And Bush’s Plan
Based on initial reports, Trump's Afghanistan policy looks a lot like what we've seen for the past sixteen years.
Tonight at 9pm Eastern time, President Trump will address the nation from Fort Meyer, a military base located in Northern Virginia just a few miles away from the Pentagon, regarding his the policy decisions that have apparently been made regarding America’s future course in Afghanistan, where American troops remain even as we approach the sixteenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks. While we won’t know for sure what the President will be discussing just yet, early reporting suggests that we’re likely to see increased troop levels notwithstanding Trump’s own previous words on the conflict and the pronouncement of his predecessors that have promised some kind of end to what has become the longest war in American history:
President Trump, who has been accused by lawmakers of dragging his feet on Afghanistan, has settled on a new strategy to carry on the nearly 16-year-old conflict there, administration officials said Sunday. The move, following a detailed review, is likely to open the door to the deployment of several thousand troops.
“The president has made a decision,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters on an overnight flight that arrived in Amman, Jordan, on Sunday. “I am very comfortable that the strategic process was sufficiently rigorous.”
Mr. Mattis declined to say what steps the president had ordered, including on troop levels, saying that the president wanted to outline the new approach himself.
The defense secretary received the authority in June to send as many as 3,900 troops to Afghanistan so that the United States military could expand its efforts to advise Afghan forces and support them with American artillery and airpower. But Mr. Mattis has refrained from building up the American force there until the Trump administration agreed on a broader strategy.
The White House said in a statement that Mr. Trump would address the American public and American troops “on a path forward for America’s engagement in Afghanistan and South Asia” in a speech at Fort Myer, Va., Monday night.
American military commanders have argued during the monthslong policy assessment that the additional troops would enable the United States to reverse gains made by the Taliban and militant groups like the Islamic State’s Afghan affiliate, the Islamic State in Khorasan.
Administration aides, under orders to let Mr. Trump announce the details, hinted that any American commitment to increase force levels would require steps by the Afghans, like doing more to fight corruption.
Mr. Trump’s Monday evening speech will be his first nationally televised prime-time address since he spoke before Congress in January and follows a week of controversy over his reaction to the racially charged violence in Charlottesville, Va.
When it comes to Afghanistan, Mr. Trump entered office as the skeptic in chief, and any ramped-up engagement there poses political risks for the president, who rallied voters weary of war with his sharp criticisms of American involvement in the country.
“We should have a speedy withdrawal. Why should we keep wasting our money — rebuild the U.S.!” Mr. Trump tweeted about Afghanistan in January 2013, as he considered running for office in 2016.
The Afghanistan question has been the source of a long-running debate at the White House. Stephen K. Bannon, who was recently removed as a top Trump adviser, fought the military’s recommendation for more troops and backed a number of alternative options — including using private contractors instead of United States forces.
The decision on troops is just one component of a military and political plan for the region that Mr. Trump and his aides have been discussing for months, and it is politically important for the president to differentiate his approach from the Obama-era policies he sharply criticized.
Administration officials have been developing ways to try to pressure Pakistan to shut down the sanctuaries there for the Taliban, a goal Republican and Democrat administrations have pursued for years with little success.
A major concern is the Pakistan-based Haqqani network, which American intelligence agencies believe is responsible for some devastating attacks in and around Kabul. Funding for Pakistan, including contributions for Pakistani troops deployed near the border with Afghanistan, may be held up to more scrutiny than it is now, according to Pentagon and congressional officials.
Trump administration officials have also worked to lock in troop commitments from NATO and other Western nations, an important consideration for a president who has demanded that allies shoulder part of the burden.
Trump administration officials say they know they will need to reassure the American public that American military involvement in the nearly 16-year-old conflict will not be open-ended and will help combat international terrorism.
Moreover, many officials believe they need to do so without setting firm deadlines for reducing or withdrawing American troops, a practice President Obama embraced but which Trump officials assert denied the military needed flexibility and played into the hands of the United States’ adversaries.
One way to address that concern, administration officials have said in recent weeks, might be to stipulate that the Afghans would need to satisfy certain conditions, like fighting corruption or improving governance, to continue to receive American economic and military support.
A number of high-level participants in the review have important experience on these issues, especially Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, and Maj. Gen. Ricky Waddell, the deputy national security adviser. Each headed an anti-corruption task force in Afghanistan.
Few people think that the war in Afghanistan can be ended anytime soon.
Obviously, the devil of what Trump proposes to do in Afghanistan will be in the details of what’s announced tonight and how it is implemented in the coming months. If these initial reports are correct, though, then it will amount to something of a change in policy for Trump from the rhetoric that we’ve heard from in him the past. Long before he was ever a candidate for President, Trump was pontificating on Twitter on the subject of the war in Afghanistan and at one point suggested that he believed that we should bring American troops home and let the Afghan’s handle the situation themselves. He repeated this idea on the campaign trail both during the Republican Primary and during the General Election. As a candidate, Trump was harshly critical of President Obama’s decisions over the course of his eight years in office which included everything from an initial surge of new forces into a war that candidate Obama had characterized as the “good war” that the Bush Administration was distracted from while pursuing some kind of elusive victory in the quagmire that resulted from the Iraq War. If these initial reports are true, then it would appear that the President has changed his position significantly from what it was when he was a candidate.
No doubt, Trump’s speech will seek to differentiate his policy and plan from that of former President Obama, but the reality is that there’s likely to be little change between what Trump proposes and what the policy and strategy that the United States pursued during the Obama years. Initially, of course, the President began his Presidency by announcing a significant addition of American troops into Afghanistan in an effort to address what had become a resurgent threat to the government in Kabul from the Taliban and other insurgent forces, including groups that eventually announced their allegiance to and/or alliance with ISIS as that group became more powerful in Iraq and Syria. Once American forces had located and eventually killed al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, the questions about what this would mean for the course of the war began to surface. Initially, the Obama Administration announced that it had reached an agreement with the
Initially, the Obama Administration announced that it had reached an agreement with the government in Kabul that would result in a gradual drawdown of American forces and end to the war from the American point of view. Under that policy, most if not all American troops would be out of the country by the end of 2016, with the possibility left open that a small force would be left behind to complete the training of the Afghan military so that it would be able to continue the fight against the Taliban. Almost immediately, though, the Obama Administration began making a series of decisions that pushed back the pace of that withdrawal and made it apparent that our commitment there would not be ending within the time promised.
In July of last year, for example, President Obama announced that American troops would be deployed back into combat areas in the country, a reversal of previously announced policy that had stated that American forces would largely be restricted to advisory and training roles while the Afghan Army took over direct combat with the Taliban. This followed a similar announcement earlier in the year that American troops would be deployed back into areas of Afghanistan where active combat was occurring Prior to that, in October 2015, President Obama announced that the withdrawal of U.S. forces would be halted due to the ongoing threat posed by a resurgent Taliban in several Afghan provinces. A year before that, not long after the President had announced the new plan that was supposed to ultimately lead to the final withdrawal of American forces, it was announced that that plan would be changed and that American forces would continue to be involved in combat operations. Several months after that, after the then-new Afghan President Ashraf Ghani visited the United States it was announced that the pace of withdrawal would be slowed even further. Finally, in April 2015 we learned that American forces were involved in more than just the counterterrorism operations that President Obama’s original plan had said they would be limited to. In other words, the history of the past two or three year. All of this seemed to follow a pattern that I predicted would unfold in All of this sounds all too close to a pattern I predicted would unfold:
At this rate, it seem inevitable that we’ll reach a point some time this year when the President will announce, no doubt with frequent use of the word “regretfully” or some similar word, that the previous commitment to remove most American troops by December 31st cannot be met. That announcement will likely come either early in the year or after the election so as to minimize the political impact, but it is the inevitable next step in all of the delays to withdrawal that the Administration has announced over the past fourteen months. More likely than not, the President will simply punt the matter into the future, perhaps by delaying the “official” withdrawal date for six months or so, thus leaving the matter for the next President to decide. All of this will occur contemporaneously with likely future increases in American commitments in Iraq and Syria related to the fight against ISIS, thus leaving quite a lot on the plate for the next President that could very well significantly distract them from being about to carry out any domestic agenda.
Now here we are with a new President, and it seems apparent that there will be no real change from the policy we’ve seen for the past several years, and that America’s military commitment in Afghanistan is unlikely to end anytime soon and probably won’t come to an end at any point during Trump’s first term.