5 takeaways from Trump’s Afghan speech
President Trump on Monday unveiled his much-anticipated agenda for Afghanistan, a plan heavy on broad goals and light on details.
Speaking from Fort Myer, Va., Trump laid out parameters that will keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan to attempt to win the 16-year-old war, rejecting those who have called for withdrawal.
“The American people are weary of war without victory. I share the American people’s frustration,” Trump said. “In the end, we will fight and we will win.”
Trump reached his plan after months of deliberation and a final, high-profile meeting of his national security team at Camp David on Friday.
Here’s are the five biggest takeaways from Trump’s address:
Trump declined to provide specifics
After months of speculation on whether Trump would send 3,000 to 5,000 additional troops to Afghanistan — a plan pushed by his top generals — the president declined to commit to a specific troop increase.
Trump is expected to send nearly 4,000 more troops, but he neither divulged a number nor said how long additional U.S. forces would spend in the country.
“We will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for future military activities,” Trump said. “Conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables, will guide our strategy from now on. America’s enemies must never know our plans. … I will not say when we will attack, but attack we will.”
The United States has about 8,400 troops in Afghanistan now. The forces are on a dual mission of training, advising and assisting Afghan forces in their fight against the Taliban and conducting counterterrorism missions against groups such as al Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
CNN later reported that senior administration officials had approved an increase of 3,900 troops.
Trump phrased the lack of a timeline as a benefit moving forward.
“A core pillar of our new strategy is a shift from a time-based approach to one based on conditions. 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.”
He acknowledged reversing from his campaign position
Trump ran on a position of limiting U.S. engagement in foreign conflicts and has for years advocated a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, arguing the United States was wasting billions.
“Why are we continuing to train these Afghanis who then shoot our soldiers in the back? Afghanistan is a complete waste. Time to come home!” he wrote on Twitter in 2012.
But on Monday night, Trump acknowledged he was reversing course on his previous comments, asserting that quickly pulling troops from the country would do more harm than good.
“My original instinct was to pull out, and historically I like following my instincts, but all of my life I’ve heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office,” Trump said.
“A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum that terrorists — including ISIS and al Qaeda — would instantly fill, just as happened before Sept. 11,” he added.
He was emphatic that nation building is not the goal
While Trump pledged to continue to support the Afghan government and military in their fight against the Taliban, he made clear his administration would take itself out of other decisions, dubbing the new outlook as “principled realism.”
“I share [Americans’] 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 consideration,” Trump said.
“Ultimately it is up to the people of Afghanistan to take ownership of their future. … We are not nation building again. We are killing terrorists,” he added.
The military, he said, will not be used “to construct democracies in far-away lands or try to rebuild countries in our own image. Those days are now over.”
Trump also pressed for a successful and sound Afghanistan, committing to continue funding the training of Afghan forces. But he also warned that such commitment “is not unlimited and our support is not a blank check.”
“The government of Afghanistan must carry their share of the military, political and economic burden. Our patience is not unlimited.”
Trump took a hard line on Pakistan
The White House plans to pressure neighboring Pakistan to push harder on terrorist organizations within and across its borders.
“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,” Trump said. “Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with our effort in Afghanistan. It has much to lose by continuing to harbor criminals terrorists.”
Trump hinted at withholding aid from the country, a tactic that has been used in the past. Defense Secretary James Mattis has withheld $50 million in aid from Pakistan over what the Pentagon described as its insufficient actions against the Haqqani network, a militant Islamic group based in the country.
“We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the terrorists that we are fighting. But that will have to change, and that will change immediately,” Trump vowed.
“It is time for Pakistan to demonstrate its commitment to civilization, order and to peace.”
He blamed previous administrations
A good portion of Trump’s speech was devoted to criticizing the decisions of past administrations, spreading blame for Afghanistan on the choices made by former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
“When I became president I was given a bad and very complex hand,” Trump asserted. “No one denies that we have inherited a challenging and troubling situation in Afghanistan and South Asia, but we do not have the luxury of going back in time and making different or better decisions.”
Trump was quick to claim that the 2011 troop drawdown deadline in Iraq — an agreement signed by Bush in 2008 — was the reason for the emergence of ISIS.
“As we know, in 2011, America hastily and mistakenly withdrew from Iraq. As a result, our hard won gains slipped back into the hands of terrorist enemies,” Trump said.
“The vacuum we created by leaving too soon gave safe haven for ISIS to spread. We cannot repeat in Afghanistan the mistake our leaders made in Iraq.”
Though he did not mention him by name, Trump also bashed Obama for restrictions “that prevented the secretary of Defense and our commanders in the field from fully and swiftly waging battle against the enemy.”
“Micromanagement from Washington, D.C., does not win battles,” Trump said.