Trump lays out "path forward in Afghanistan and South Asia"
Longest US war has been ongoing for 16 years
US President Donald Trump is doubling down on Afghanistan, despite his own admitted instinct to withdraw from America’s longest war.
“We will fight to win,” he said in a speech at Fort Myer in Arlington, Virginia, taking a strident tone and indicating the US would expand its presence in Afghanistan but offering few specific details on how it would do so.
“America’s enemies must never know our plans, or believe they can wait us out. I will not say when we are going to attack, but attack we will,” said Trump, before a crowd of US troops.
While he admitted he previously favored withdrawal, Trump said doing so would dishonor the US troops who died in Afghanistan and could create a vacuum that would allow terrorist networks to expand.
Harsh words for Pakistan
In setting out what he described as a new approach to the 16-year campaign, Trump had harsh words for US ally Pakistan, saying Washington could “no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations.”
Five key pieces of Trump's Afghanistan plan
- Pentagon given authority to ramp up troop levels, but US military will not talk specific numbers
- Military given greater autonomy to attack Taliban and other groups
- End goal is to find a political solution to the Afghan war, maybe involving Taliban
- Trump called on Pakistan to stop providing a safe-haven for terrorists
- US wants to win in Afghanistan, but not interested in nation building
“We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars, at the same time, they are housing the very terrorists we are fighting … that must change immediately,” Trump added.
He also called on Pakistan’s regional rival India, to “help us more with Afghanistan, especially in the area of economic assistant and development.”
“We appreciate India’s important contributions to stability in Afghanistan but India makes billions of dollars in trade from the United States and we want them to help us more with Afghanistan, especially in the area of economic assistance and development.”
In response to Trump’s pledge, the Taliban issued a defiant statement, saying the US should have thought about withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan instead of prolonging the war.
“It looks like the US still doesn’t want to put an end to its longest war. Instead of understanding the facts and realities, (Trump) still shows pride for his power and military forces,” the statement said, vowing Taliban forces would keep fighting to free Afghanistan of “American invaders.”
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani welcomed Trump’s statement and his “affirmation of support for our efforts to achieve self-reliance and for our joint struggle to rid the region from the threat of terrorism.”
“The US-Afghan partnership is stronger than ever in overcoming the threat of terrorism that threatens us all,” Ghani said in a statement Tuesday, adding the “objective of peace is paramount.”
Washington has long accused Islamabad of not doing enough in efforts to stabilize Afghanistan.
In July, Secretary of Defense James Mattis informed Congress the US was withholding $50 million in funding from Pakistan because he was unable to certify that Islamabad “has taken sufficient action against the Haqqani Network,” a branch of the Afghan Taliban.
US officials believe that much of the Haqqani leadership is based in Pakistan and some analysts believe eliminating their safe havens is critical to stabilizing Afghanistan.
Trump seemed to reference this in his speech Monday, saying that “Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with our effort in Afghanistan (and) much to lose from harboring criminals and terrorists.”
Pakistan was designated a major US non-NATO ally by President George W Bush in 2004, in recognition for Islamabad’s contributions to the anti-al Qaeda fight, but relations between Washington and Islamabad have long been strained over Afghanistan.
“Pakistan has ironclad immutable strategic interests which dictate maintaining ties to groups like the Taliban,” said Michael Kugelman, deputy director and senior associate for South Asia with the Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center.
“It sees them as useful tools to keep Pakistan’s enemy, India, at bay in Afghanistan.”
Taking a tough line on Pakistan “is not a new idea” said Lahore-based defense analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi, “(Trump) just appears to be more categorical and clearer than previous administrations.”
In 2009, President Barack Obama announced a “comprehensive, new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan”
“The future of Afghanistan is inextricably linked to the future of its neighbor, Pakistan,” Obama said, calling on Islamabad to “demonstrate its commitment to rooting out al Qaeda and the violent extremists within its borders.”
Trump's Afghanistan plan
Eight years later, however, little has changed. A report earlier this year by the conservative Hudson Institute found “Pakistan never changed its policy of supporting certain militant groups that fight Afghan and coalition forces, thus making it impossible for the United States to achieve its objective of keeping Afghanistan from reverting to a safe haven for interna