Donald Trump to expand US military intervention in Afghanistan

US President Donald Trump discarded his previous criticism of the 16-year-old war as a waste of time and money, announcing that he would prolong the US military intervention in Afghanistan

22 August 2017, 7:53am
The US President warned it was not a
The US President warned it was not a "blank cheque" for Afghanistan
US President Donald Trump has announced he would prolong the US military intervention in Afghanistan, which he once described as a “complete waste”, bowing to advice from his top officials to raise the stakes once more in the 16-year conflict.

In a televised address to troops at Fort Myer in Virginia, Trump said he was setting out a new strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia. He said his original instinct was to pull US forces out, but had instead decided to stay and "fight to win" - avoiding the mistakes made in Iraq.

"My instinct was to pull out," Trump said as he spoke of his frustration with a war that has killed thousands of US troops and cost US taxpayers trillions of dollars.

But following months of deliberation, Trump said he had concluded "the consequences of a rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable" leaving a "vacuum" that terrorists "would instantly fill."

Trump declared he would no longer announce troop levels but would focus on allowing US forces to target the Taliban and other terrorist groups wherever they were in Afghanistan.

He said he wanted to shift from a time-based approach in Afghanistan to one based on conditions on the ground, adding he would not set out deadlines.

However, the US President warned it was not a "blank cheque" for Afghanistan.

"America will work with the Afghan government, so long as we see commitment and progress," he said.

He added that the Pakistani government should be responsible of cutting support for militants who find a haven along the Afghan border. Trump warned that Islamabad would have “much to lose” if it did not comply.

Trump repeatedly presented his ideas for South Asia as a radical departure from the Obama administration, with a tighter focus on counter-terrorism.

“We are not nation building again. We are killing terrorists,” he said. But the Fort Myer speech suggested that the tasks facing US soldiers and diplomats in the region would remain the same, attacking terrorist groups while trying to bolster the Afghan government’s own forces and trying to put pressure on Kabul and Islamabad to help more.

In his address, Trump made a virtue of avoiding details, saying he would not repeat what he presented as the Obama administration’s mistake of signalling plans to the nation’s enemies. Instead, key decisions would be taken by military commanders and determined by “conditions on the ground and not arbitrary timetables”.

However, the Trump White House has already given the Pentagon authority to deploy another 4,000 more troops to bolster the 8,400 there already and vice-president Mike Pence was reported to have told Congress that 3,900 extra soldiers would be sent.

Meanwhile, Trump made it clear he expects his existing allies to support him in his new strategy, telling them he wanted them to raise their countries' contributions "in line with our own".

US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis indicated in a statement "several" US allies had already "committed to increasing their troop numbers".

“Together, we will assist the Afghan Security forces to destroy the terrorist hub,” Mattis said.

In another coordinated statement, the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson said that the administration was making clear to the Taliban that they will not win on the battlefield,” and that the US was ready to support peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban ‘without preconditions”. This too was the Obama administration’s policy.

A conflict that began in October 2001 as a hunt for the 9/11 attackers has turned into a vexed effort to keep Afghanistan's divided and corruption-hindered democracy alive amid a brutal Taliban insurgency.