The US strategy in Afghanistan came in for renewed debate last week with President Donald Trump unveiling what he termed was a new direction for American involvement.
‘If there is a compelling case to be made for deepening the US military involvement in Afghanistan, where the 16-year-old war has already lasted longer than any other in American history, President Trump did not make it in his speech Monday night,” said the New York Times. “Rather than the comprehensive strategy that is called for, his plan amounted to a jumble of ideas that lacked detail and coherence and were often contradictory. Having spent years criticising America’s involvement in Afghanistan, he now appears inclined toward an open-ended commitment, but with no real ways to measure success and no hint of a timetable for withdrawal,” the paper said.
Noting that any successful strategy for Afghanistan must consider the regional context, the paper highlighted some inconsistencies in the stance and said: “He took a tough tone on Pakistan, which has long played a double game, taking billions of dollars in aid from Washington while giving safe haven to the Taliban and other militants; the president hinted that some aid could be withheld. Mr Trump might have further angered Pakistan by urging India to provide more economic aid to Afghanistan; Pakistan is already unsettled by India’s $1 billion investment in Afghanistan and will be unhappier still if that is increased.”
The Washington Post urged the Trump administration not to abandon Afghanistan now and said: “[Trump] should listen to the generals. It is not an easy choice, but the goal of any strategy must be to build Afghan stability, not weaken it. Mr [Ashraf] Gani’s government is fractured and facing popular discontent. Afghan security forces are losing ground. A US pullout would accelerate the centrifugal forces already at work. Although Afghanistan has come far over the past decade and a half, a sudden withdrawal might send it spiralling downward toward the chaos of the 1990s, when it became a sanctuary for Al Qaida and home base for the Taliban’s harsh form of rule.” The San Jose Mercury News called Trump’s strategy “long on promises and short on details,” and said: “The path from here to there is both unclear and littered with land mines… In general, the 180-degree shift in the president’s thinking is welcome. The complete withdrawal of US forces that candidate Trump advocated would establish a strong Taliban presence in Afghanistan that would promote terrorism. While that approach and the lack of a promised pull-out deadline are good ideas, the situation in southeast Asia is far more complex than the speech implied. The 16-year war in Afghanistan already stands as the longest in US history. At one point, President Obama had 100,000 US troops there but couldn’t eliminate the Taliban. It’s hard to see how adding 4,000 additional troops to the current force of 8,400 will substantially change the prospects for victory — whatever victory means.”
The Guardian went back in history to trace the context of the current situation. “How to proceed in Afghanistan presents an exceptionally complex challenge. Mistakes were made long before Mr Trump inherited the problem. The country has known only war ever since the 1979 Soviet invasion. Western troops have been deployed for almost 16 years against the Taliban. The conflict is not only an open wound of human suffering; it also remains a strategic headache.” That Mr Trump in the end took the advice of the generals in his top team may reveal the evolving nature of a post-Bannon administration. But it also reflects the scale of a genuine quandary… This was arguably Mr Trump’s most realistic foreign policy statement thus far – not a high hurdle to clear but a carefully scripted, sober assessment nevertheless. Yet incremental steps are not a convincing new road map. Afghans know all too painfully that one speech alone will not bring their country any closer to peace.”