Seven months-ish into his term of office, Donald Trump has finally presented his long-promised new plan for prosecuting the still-ongoing American war in Afghanistan. In his first primetime address, standing in front of a Ft. Myer hall filled with in-uniform troops, military officers, and cabinet members, Trump announced no specific new troop numbers—or, in fact, plans themselves. He instead vowed a new approach “based on conditions.”
We will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities. Conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables, will guide our strategy from now on. America's enemies but 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. [...]
I have 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. Micro management from Washington, D.C. Does not win battles. [...] That's why we will also expand authority for American armed forces to target the terrorists and criminal networks that sow violence and chaos throughout Afghanistan.
Much of his speech prior to this announcement was spent defending his decision to apparently(?) escalate Afghanistan operations, declaring that “the consequences of a rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable.”
I share the American people's frustration. I also share their frustration over a foreign policy that has spent too much time, energy, money and most importantly lives trying to rebuild countries in our own image instead of pursuing our security interests above all other considerations.
That is why shortly after my inauguration I directed secretary of defense Mattis and my national security team to undertake a comprehensive review of all strategic options in Afghanistan and south Asia. My original instinct was to pull out and historically I like following my instincts. But all my life I've heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the oval office. In other words when you're president of the United States. So I studied Afghanistan in great detail and from every conceivable angle.
After assuring viewers there would be no further “nation building” in Afghanistan, Trump also vowed to “change in our approach to Pakistan.”
We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond. Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with our effort in Afghanistan. It has much to lose by continuing to harbor criminals and terrorists. [...] We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting. But that will have to change and that will change immediately.
Trump reportedly insisted on making the announcement himself, rather than through an intermediary, and via a prime-time television appearance.
In the past, Trump demanded American withdrawal from Afghanistan, and during the campaign he condemned the war as a money-draining “total disaster.” His announced policy now, however, is a reversal of those past statements.
“This is Trump’s war now,” [Former Obama assistant secretary of defense Derek Chollet] said. “Putting 50 percent more troops in Afghanistan — that’s ownership. And it’s not something he can blame on his predecessor.”