U.S. President Donald Trump has unveiled a “new strategy” on Afghanistan in his address to the nation, marking a turning point in what he acknowledges as “the longest war in American history.”
It is nothing new for the United States to map out a strategy centering on dispatching additional troops to Afghanistan, but President Trump’s vow to seek victory in the war without setting a deadline is in a sense significant, as he had previously advocated pulling troops out of the war-torn country, where the deteriorating security situation has shown no signs of improving.
The U.S. war on Afghanistan began in October 2001, the month after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on American soil. The war targeted al-Qaida, an Islamist militant group that carried out the terror attacks, and the Taliban administration that supported the extremist organization. While the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush came under fire for launching the war in Iraq in 2003, the United Nations has acknowledged the legitimacy of the war against Afghanistan.
Nevertheless, after U.S. troops toppled the Taliban administration to replace it with a pro-American government, security in Afghanistan continued to deteriorate. The U.S. has found itself in a quagmire in the country — where the British Empire and the Soviet Union previously became bogged down.
President Trump’s fresh strategy could be seen as a stop-gap measure to deal with the severe state of affairs, as well as a desperate means to save his country’s face. The 16-year-old war on Afghanistan has already claimed the lives of 2,400 U.S. service members. In his national address, Trump argued that the U.S. must produce results that can match the “extraordinary sacrifice,” and criticized the administration of his predecessor Barack Obama for creating a “vacuum” to be filled by the Islamic State and other militant groups by “hastily and mistakenly” withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.
Trump’s review of the Obama administration aside, we can share his sense of crisis regarding the tremendous threat surrounding Afghanistan. The problem is there is no outlook for a stabilized Afghanistan on the horizon with his pledge that U.S. troops “will fight to win” in the lengthy conflict.
Trump also called for close cooperation from Afghanistan’s neighbor Pakistan on counterterrorism measures, and expressed his expectations for India to provide mainly economic assistance. He also said the U.S. will ask for additional troops and for funds from NATO members and allies.
NATO nations, however, have already paid a high price in Afghanistan, with numerous casualties resulting from their troops’ pivotal role in the now-defunct International Security Assistance Force. Afghanistan’s neighbors also have their own limits in providing support for the latest U.S. strategy.
It appears that an emphasis on military solutions provides no positive prospects for Afghanistan down the road. For the U.S. to make a breakthrough, it will essentially need to strive for a peaceful solution, through an approach to the Taliban’s moderate wing, among other methods.