In his first prime time address as President, Donald Trump stood before members of the military community at Fort Myer, Virginia, on Monday evening and implored the nation to come together as one, especially in the fight against terrorism. He simultaneously told the country something decisive and powerful about the war in Afghanistan, all while being tight-lipped and illusive on the actual meat and bones of the strategy moving forward.
“We are killing terrorists,” Trump said Monday night. “These killers need to know they have nowhere to hide; that no place is beyond the reach of American might and American arms. Retribution will be fast and powerful.”
“Terrorists who slaughter innocent people will find no glory in this life or the next,” Trump said. “They are nothing but thugs, and criminals, and predators, and – that’s right – losers. Working alongside our allies, we will break their will, dry up their recruitment, keep them from crossing our borders, and yes, we will defeat them, and we will defeat them handily.”
The 16-year war against the Taliban and other terrorist groups in Afghanistan has been on the minds of many, as it was recently announced that Trump had finally come to a conclusion about what the strategy will be moving forward against terrorism in the Middle East.
“Our troops will fight to win. We will fight to win,” Trump stressed in his address. “From now on, victory will have a clear definition: attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing al Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan, and stopping mass terror attacks against America before they emerge.”
The message was clear: the U.S. is going to finish the job in Afghanistan, but the President won’t say how or when, aside from saying the U.S. Military will be given the tools it needs to get the job done, and that the military will be able to operate on the ground as it sees fit.
It had been previously reported that the President would announce a deployment of 4,000 troops to Afghanistan during his address. But he did not talk numbers on Monday night in front of the American people. In fact, numbers and specific details were specifically omitted and absent from his address. Earlier this year there were also reports that the U.S. could send an additional 4,000 troops to Afghanistan. At the time, President Trump was reportedly considering doing the exact opposite and removing all troops from the country, thus relying on drones and U.S. Special Forces to get the job done.
Trump in June gave Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the Department of Defense the power to decide whether or not, and how many, additional American troops would be sent to Afghanistan. Following the President’s address, Mattis said he was preparing to execute Trump’s orders.
“I have directed the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to make preparations to carry out the president’s strategy. 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. Together, we will assist the Afghan Security forces to destroy the terrorist hub,” Mattis said in a statement.
There are currently about 8,400 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. About six years ago, there were roughly 100,000 service members in Afghanistan. Trump would be the third President in 16 years to surge troops into Afghanistan; a timeline of the U.S. in Afghanistan can be seen here.
Trump has said in the past that he thinks troops should be pulled out of Afghanistan. However, now – acting as President – he sees things differently.
“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,” Trump said Monday night. “After many meetings, over many months, we held our final meeting last Friday at Camp David, with my Cabinet and generals, to complete our strategy.”
Trump came to three “fundamental conclusions,” he said Monday night, which are:
- The country seeks an “honorable and enduring outcome worthy of the tremendous sacrifices that have been made, especially the sacrifices of lives. The men and women who serve our nation in combat deserve a plan for victory. They deserve the tools they need, and the trust they have earned, to fight and win,” Trump said.
- Any consequences of rapidly leaving Afghanistan – and saying when the drawdown would be – are both “predictable and unacceptable,” the President pointed out. “A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum that terrorists, including ISIS and al Qaeda, would instantly fill, just as happened before September 11th.”
- The security threats faced in Afghanistan are “immense.”
When he finally spoke about the changing strategy in Afghanistan, Trump did not say anything about the number of troops he would or would not be sending to the Middle East. Instead, he laid out his core pillars of the new strategy.
The first pillar is to shift from a time-based approach to an approach based on conditions, Trump said.
“I’ve said it many times how counterproductive it is for the United States to announce in advance the dates we intend to begin, or end, military options. We will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities,” the President said firmly. “Conditions on the ground – not arbitrary timetables – will guide our strategy from now on. 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.”
The second pillar of the new strategy is “integration of all instruments of American power,” Trump said, including diplomatic, economic and military instruments.
“Someday, after an effective military effort, perhaps it will be possible to have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan, but nobody knows if or when that will ever happen. America will continue its support for the Afghan government and the Afghan military as they confront the Taliban in the field. Ultimately, it is up to the people of Afghanistan to take ownership of their future, to govern their society, and to achieve an everlasting peace. 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.
A third and important pillar is changing the approach the U.S. takes with Pakistan, Trump said, and he pointed out many times that the United States must stop the resurgence of safe havens for terrorists in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and prevent nuclear weapons and materials from entering the hands of terrorists.
“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. In the past, Pakistan has been a valued partner. Our militaries have worked together against common enemies. The Pakistani people have suffered greatly from terrorism and extremism. We recognize those contributions and those sacrifices. But Pakistan has also sheltered the same organizations that try every single day to kill our people. 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. No partnership can survive a country’s harboring of militants and terrorists who target U.S. service members and officials. It is time for Pakistan to demonstrate its commitment to civilization, order, and to peace,” the President said.
Also, the U.S. wants to strengthen and further develop a partnership with India. “We want them to help us more with Afghanistan,” especially when it comes to economic assistance and development, Trump said.
On the topic of coming together as one nation, Trump said:
“Loyalty to our nation demands loyalty to one another. Love for America requires love for all of its people. When we open our hearts to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice, no place for bigotry, and no tolerance for hate. The young men and women we send to fight our wars abroad deserve to return to a country that is not at war with itself at home. We cannot remain a force for peace in the world if we are not at peace with each other,” the President said.
Ultimately, the American military will no longer be used to “construct democracies in faraway lands, or try to rebuild other countries in our own image,” Trump said. “Those days are now over.”
“Principled realism” will guide decisions in Afghanistan from here out, the President said, while pointing out that the United States’ commitment “is not unlimited, and our support is not a blank check,” adding that the government of Afghanistan will carry its share of the burden of war.
“I will remain steadfast in protecting American lives and American interests. In this effort, we will make common cause with any nation that chooses to stand and fight alongside us against this global threat. Terrorists take heed: America will never let up until you are dealt a lasting defeat,” Trump said.