Trump’s Afghan Strategy: ‘Killing Terrorists,’ Not Nation-Building

President Donald Trump speaks at Fort Myer in Arlington Va., Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, during a Presidential Address to the Nation about a strategy he believes will best position the U.S. to eventually declare victory in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Carolyn Kaster/AP
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President Donald Trump on Monday announced that his administration’s strategy for the war in Afghanistan would be predicated upon unannounced military operations, nondisclosure of troop numbers, unfixed schedules and “killing terrorists.”

In his first nationally televised prime-time speech since his address in January to a joint session of Congress, the President laid out a strategy with several “pillars” but very little specificity about the United States’ ongoing involvement in Afghanistan.

Trump said his “original instinct was to pull out” of that country, but that after studying the conflict he came to certain “fundamental conclusions about America’s core interests in Afghanistan.”

“First, our nation must seek an honorable and enduring outcome worthy of the tremendous sacrifices that have been made,” Trump said. “Second, the consequences of a rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable.”

“A hasty withdrawal,” he said, “would create a vacuum that terrorists, including ISIS and Al Qaeda, would instantly fill just as happened before Sept. 11.”

Trump cited “the extraordinary sacrifice of blood and treasure” since the Sept. 11 attacks and said the United States “mistakenly withdrew from Iraq” in 2011.

“We cannot repeat in Afghanistan the mistake our leaders made in Iraq,” he said.

Trump claimed that when he became President, he “was given a bad and very complex hand” and so decided to move forward with a multi-pronged strategy.

“A core pillar of our new strategy is a shift from a time-based approach to one based on conditions,” he said.

To that end, Trump said the United States would no longer “announce in advance the dates we intend to begin or end military options” or “talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities.”

“I will not say when we are going to attack, but attack we will,” he said.

Another strategy, according to Trump, would be “the integration of all instruments of American power, diplomatic, economic and military, toward a successful outcome.” He did not clarify how that would work.

Trump said the United States “will not dictate to the Afghan people how to live, or how to govern their own complex society,” and summed that prong of the strategy up tersely: “We are not nation building again. We are killing terrorists.”

He described “terrorists who slaughter innocent people” as “nothing but thugs and criminals and predators and, that’s right, losers.”

Trump also zeroed in on the role Pakistan plays in providing “safe haven” to terrorists in the region, saying the U.S. needs to “change the approach and how to deal with Pakistan.”

“It is time for Pakistan to demonstrate its commitment to civilization, order, and to peace,” he said.

The President declared that he had “already lifted restrictions the previous administration placed on our war fighters that prevented the secretary of defense and our commanders in the field from fully and swiftly waging battle against the enemy.”

“We will also expand authority for American armed forces to target the terrorist and criminal networks that sow violence and chaos throughout Afghanistan,” he said, but did not specify how.

The President opened those remarks with a nod to his statement about the violence that erupted at a white nationalist rally earlier this month in Charlottesville, Virginia. However, he did not mention the city or groups involved by name, as he had after two days of intensifying backlash to his initial comments blaming “many sides” for a car attack that killed one counter-protester and injured at least 19 others.

“The soldier understands what we as a nation too often forget, that a wound inflicted upon a single member of our community is a wound inflicted upon us all,” Trump said. “When we open our hearts to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice, no place for bigotry and no tolerance for hate.”

This post has been updated.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Esme Cribb is a newswriter for TPM in New York City. She can be found on Twitter @emquiry and reached by email at esme@talkingpointsmemo.com.
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