President Donald Trump says the US will not repeat the mistakes of Iraq and leave a power vacuum. Focusing on Afghanistan and Pakistan to do more, Trump leaves out policy details, troop numbers and timelines from new strategy.
US President Donald Trump declared on Monday that 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 he would provide details about his new strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia.
However, his speech focused instead on broad categories of expanding the authorities or tools on hand for US troops, ensuring Afghanistan takes ownership of their future, warning Pakistan to dismantle all support of terrorism and admonishing India for needing to take on more economic responsibility.
TRT World 's Khody Akhavi has more.
"No hasty withdrawals"
Trump said his "original instinct was to pull out," alluding to his long-expressed view before becoming president that Afghanistan was an 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 Qaeda and Daesh could "instantly fill."
"I concluded that the security threats we face in Afghanistan and the broader region are immense," Trump said at the Army's Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, in Arlington, Virginia, across the Potomac River from the White House.
"We will ask our NATO allies and global partners to support our new strategy, with additional troop and funding increases in line with our own. We are confident they will," Trump said.
No dates or numbers
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," he added.
"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."
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.
Working with Afghans
While Trump's speech included words which would bring hope to many Afghans, they added to the inherent contradictions in the scantly-laid out framework.
"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."
Trump said, "America will work with the Afghan government as long as we see determination and progress."
But Trump offered few details about how it would work with a government which has little popular support while avoiding nation-building. He did not outline the indicators Afghan progress would be measured along.
"Our commitment is not unlimited, and our support is not a blank check."
He made clear his patience had limits in support of the Afghanistan government, saying Kabul needed to increase its cooperation in order to justify a continued American commitment.
Nor did he explain how his approach would differ substantively from what two presidents before him tried unsuccessfully over the past 16 years.
While Trump stressed his strategy was about more than just the military, he was vague on other aspects. He offered no specifics on ensuring Afghanistan’s economic development or on securing a new diplomatic partnership in the region.
Political deal with Taliban
With no clear path to victory in his speech, Trump also left the door open to an eventual political deal with the Taliban.
"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.
"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."
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called on Taliban for a political settlement and peace talks "without preconditions," in a statement issued after he attended Trump's speech.
"We are making clear to the Taliban that they will not win on the battlefield."
The commander of the US-led forces in Afghanistan, John Nicholson, also warned the Taliban to renounce violence as the new US strategy left no room for victory on the battlefield.
Taliban dismiss Trump's strategy
"For now, I can tell you there was nothing new in his speech and it was very unclear," said Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban in Afghanistan.
A senior Taliban commander said Trump was just perpetuating the "arrogant behaviour" of previous presidents such as George Bush.
"He is just wasting American soldiers. We know how to defend our country. It will not change anything."
Tough line on Pakistan
Trump laid out a seemingly tougher approach toward Pakistan.
Senior US officials warned he could reduce security assistance for Pakistan unless the nuclear-armed nation cooperates more in preventing militants from using safe havens on its soil.
"We can no longer be silent about Pakistan's safe havens," Trump said.
"Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with our effort in Afghanistan. It has much to lose by continuing to harbour terrorists."
Trump recognised Pakistan's past role as a "valued partner" but warned Islamabad against giving "safe haven to agents of chaos, violence and terror."
The threat, he said, is worse "because Pakistan and India are two nuclear-armed states, whose tense relations threaten to spiral into conflict, and that could happen."
Going further, Trump suggested that military and other aid to Washington's nuclear-armed ally is at stake if it does not clamp down on extremism.
"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.
In the same breath, Trump also said the United States wanted India to help more with Afghanistan, especially in the areas of economic assistance and development.
"We appreciate India’s important contributions to stability in Afghanistan, but India makes billions of dollars in trade with the United States — and we want them to help us more with Afghanistan, especially in the area of economic assistance and development."
Surge in troop strength
US Secretary of Defense James Mattis announced on Monday that America and several allies have committed to boosting their troop numbers in Afghanistan, following an address to the nation by the US president.
Senior White House officials say Trump has already authorised Mattis to deploy up to 3,900 more troops to Afghanistan.
"I have directed the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to make preparations to carry out the president's strategy," Mattis said in a statement issued after Trump's address.
"I will be in consultation with the secretary-general of NATO and our allies – several of which have also committed to increasing their troop numbers," Mattis said.