US President Donald Trump declared on Monday night the United States must continue fighting in Afghanistan to avoid the “predictable and unacceptable” results of a rapid withdrawal from the country where the US has been at war for 16 years.
In a prime-time address to the nation, Trump said his “original instinct was to pull out,” alluding to his long-expressed view before becoming president that Afghanistan was a unsolvable quagmire requiring a fast US withdrawal.
Since taking office, Trump said, he’d determined that approach could create a vacuum that groups including al-Qaida and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) could “instantly fill”.
“I concluded that the security threats we face in Afghanistan and the broader region are immense,” Trump said.
Though his speech was billed as an announcement of his updated Afghanistan policy, Trump offered few specifics about what it would entail.
He did not provide a number of additional troops that will be sent to the war, though US officials said ahead of the speech they expect him to go along with a Pentagon recommendation for nearly 4,000 new troops.
“We will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities,” Trump said. “Conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables, will guide our strategy from now on.”
US reviews war strategy for Afghanistan
Al Jazeera’s Patty Culhane, reporting from Washington DC, said it was unusual that Trump would not say how many extra troops are going to be sent in.
“There are going to be questions and calls from members of congress and members of the public to say ‘wait a minute, this is America’s military. These are America’s sons and daughters that you are going to be sent into harms way, therefore the American public has a right to know just how many are fighting in their name and how much it’s going to cost’,” said Culhane.
There are roughly 8,400 American forces in Afghanistan now. At its peak, the US had roughly 100,000 forces there, under the Obama administration in 2010-2011.
Trump said the American people are “weary of war without victory”.
“I share the America people’s frustration,” Trump said at the Army’s Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, in Arlington, Virginia, across the Potomac River from the White House.
Still, he insisted that “in the end, we will win.”
Tougher approach to Pakistan
Trump also laid out a tougher approach to US policy toward Pakistan.
We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organisations,” Trump declared, outlining a new US security strategy in South Asia.
“Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with our effort in Afghanistan. It has much to lose by continuing to harbour criminals and terrorists.”
Going further, Trump suggested that military and other aid to Washington’s nuclear-armed ally is at stake.
“We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting,” he said.
“That will have to change and that will change immediately,” he said.
Trump also said the US wanted India to help more with Afghanistan, especially in the areas of economic assistance and development.
Trump open to political deal with Taliban
Trump also left the door open to an eventual political deal with the Taliban in his address.
“Someday, after an effective military effort, perhaps it will be possible to have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan,” he said.
Historic Afghanistan palace undergoes restoration
“But nobody knows if or when that will ever happen,” he added, before vowing that “America will continue its support for the Afghan government and military as they confront the Taliban in the field.”
Trump said it was for the people of Afghanistan “to take ownership of their future”.
“We are a partner and a friend but we will not dictate to the Afghan people how to live or how to govern their own complex society. We are not nation building again. We are killing terrorists,” he declared.
Al Jazeera’s Jennifer Glasse, reporting from Kabul, said that overall it was very much a message of military support from Trump to Afghanistan.
“I think the real question here for Afghans is going to be: ‘Is this really a new strategy, or more of the same?'” she said.
Glasse said there were not a lot of specific details in the speech, which many Afghans were looking for – especially as the Taliban has ramped up its attacks in recent months.
“For the United States it may look like a new strategy. Whether its going to look like that to the Afghans is the real question,” said Glasse.
Can the US defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan?
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies