Trump announces shift in strategy, will send additional troops to Afghanistan

UPDATE 3 — 8/31, 8:46 a.m. EDT: Correcting the record Wednesday, Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said approximately 11,000 U.S. troops are currently deployed in Afghanistan, 2,600 more than previously acknowledged.

The new estimate includes partial-unit and short-term deployments.

White also said troop level estimates in Iraq and Syria are also being revised and will be announced at a future date. 

 

UPDATE 2 — 8/23, 1:07 p.m. EDT: U.S. Central Command Gen. Joseph Votel said Tuesday that a surge of on-the-troops alluded to by President Trump Monday will be deployed in Afghanistan by September, although no official plans have been approved by the Pentagon according to Defense Sec. Mattis.

Specifically, Votel said the goal “is to get some capabilities in to have an impact on the current fighting season,” which started in April.

Currently, about 8,400 American service members are deployed in Afghanistan.

 

UPDATE — 5:50 p.m. EDT: Speaking to Reuters news agency Tuesday, Air Force Chief of Staff General David Goldfein said the U.S. is considering ratcheting up its air attack campaign against Afghanistan following President Trump’s Monday speech.

“I think the guidance was pretty clear from the president last night, and we’re going to go on the offensive and destroy these terrorist networks,” said Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson.

Both Wilson and Goldfein also acknowledged that the U.S. will put “some intense diplomatic pressure,” on Pakistan, a country bordering Afghanistan known for harboring terrorist outfits.

 

In a televised address to the nation Monday evening, President Trump unveiled his long-awaited strategy for the U.S. in Afghanistan from Fort Myer in Arlington, Va.

In offering a revamped plan to bring a lasting peace to Afghanistan and the region, Trump said he hoped to avoid errors made in the 16-year war in Iraq, and “stay and fight” in Afghanistan.

In policy shift distinct from two prior administrations, Mr. Trump also stated implicitly that military and political goals amount to “killing terrorists,” and not remaining in the South Asian nation and nation build.

Although Trump’s proposition did not include specifics such as troop numbers, a timeline, or fixed battle strategy, it is expected 4,000 additional troops will be deployed to Afghanistan.  Military officials also say the increased troops will focus largely on training Afghan troops in the art of anti-insurgency to blunt Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists and Taliban militants.

In addition to approximately 4,000 NATO troops present in Afghanistan, the American detachment amounts to just under 7,000 troops.  Italy, Germany and Georgia maintain troop levels near 1,000.

However, despite the announcement troop levels would increase, a vital component of the president’s plan of action to resolve the conflict would include applying pressure to Afghanistan’s neighbor, Pakistan.

Specifically singling out Islamabad as a “safe haven to agents of chaos” for terror groups such as al-Qaeda, the Taliban and the Haqqani network, Trump said:

“The next pillar of our new strategy is to change the approach in how to deal with 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 the U.S. in its efforts in Afghanistan.  It has much to lose by continuing to harbor terrorists.”

U.S. officials and experts have long contended Pakistan has offered shelter to Islamic militant groups.  Islamabad has heatedly denied providing harbor to these organizations, contending that its military forces have actively swept up radical elements from within its borders.

Following Trump’s address, the Pakistani government said U.S. policy would not affect how Islamabad formulates its anti-terror strategy. For its part, the Taliban announced Afghanistan would become “another graveyard” for U.S. troops.

Similarly, China defended its ally, Pakistan, and boasted of the “great sacrifices” in Pakistan’s fight against militants.

Unlike Pakistan and the Taliban, NATO and India welcomed Trump’s speech.  NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg applauded Trump’s “conditions-based” strategy.

Long at odds with Islamabad, India also welcomed Trump’s comments, saying it shared Washington’s concerns over havens for terrorists in Pakistan.

 

[BBC] [AP] [ABC News] [The Hill] [Photo courtesy Joshua Roberts/Reuters]