By: Nawal Ali
In August, President Trump announced that the United States will deploy additional troops to Afghanistan as part of a new change in American policy regarding the longest war in US history. Some commentators were skeptical of President Trump’s new strategy, concerned about the lack of a timeline for the end of the already 16-year-long war. Additionally, there was no explanation about how this increase in troop levels could change the current situation in Afghanistan. What these critics and skeptics fail to acknowledge is how the approach of the Obama administration was not working. President Trump’s speech made clear that an improvement in American policy can be made.
The Obama administration’s Afghan policy was troubled from its inception. His initial promise to withdraw troops by 2011 was repeatedly delayed, being pushed back to 2014, then to 2015, and then finally to 2016. Furthermore, the focus on having a deadline for when US troops should begin to withdraw, regardless of battlefield circumstances, has been detrimental to American credibility in the region. The Taliban was emboldened by the Obama administration’s deadlines; it believed that it needed to merely outlast the American occupation. They believed that they could come back to power while US allies were scrambling to ensure their futures in a post-American Afghanistan, instead of working with the American government to stabilize the country.
Furthermore, a lack of action on Pakistan by the Obama administration hindered counter-terrorism efforts in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, is believed to have cultivated and utilized the Afghan Taliban, as well as the terrorist group Haqqani Network as proxies. Both groups can launch attacks against US and allied forces from Pakistani territory without difficulty. Any solution to the political instability in Afghanistan requires a tough stance against Pakistani support for terrorism, which President Trump’s new policy includes.
However, the Obama administration refused to do that in 2009 when it committed to the troop surge without changing the policy regarding Pakistan. This limited any potential for success that the increased presence the surge could have had. Additionally, while these terrorist attacks have been occurring, Pakistan has received nearly 35 billion dollars from the United States.
With these and other missteps in President Obama’s Afghan policy, President Trump’s speech showcases key policy changes that increase the chances of success in Afghanistan. First, his decision to escalate the military presence in Afghanistan brings the potential for new military operations against the Taliban. Second, President Trump ended the insistence on announcing deadlines, as Obama had done. Third, there is a serious commitment to getting Pakistan to reduce support for terrorism.
On the first point, the deployment of nearly four thousand troops alleviates the pressure on the Afghanistan National Army in the fight against the Taliban. President Trump’s announcement that “we are killing terrorists” is a welcome change from the posture of the Obama administration. During President Obama’s tenure, the withdrawal of US troops outpaced the efforts of the Afghan army to be ready to fight on its own. This has led to the Taliban making the biggest gains made since the war has started. A renewed commitment to military action can roll back these gains.
The lack of an artificial deadline, a source of criticism from many about President Trump’s speech, is actually good policy. After all, President Obama’s insistence on timelines could not be maintained in the face of the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, hence the deadlines being pushed back into the future. The only result of announcing a deadline is signaling a lack of resolve that reduces the cooperation of allies and increases the stubbornness of the enemy.
Another policy change that President Trump’s speech heralded, was the tough line on Pakistan. Doing something about Pakistan’s policy of exporting terror is a long overdue policy change the US government should have embarked on years ago. Success in reducing support for the Taliban and its allies will improve the success of Afghan and American military operations to improve stability in the country.
President Trump speech promised a renewed commitment to fighting terrorism in Afghanistan. This speech has had many detractors. Nevertheless, the content of the speech showcases efforts by the Trump administration to fix the policy missteps of the Obama administration and to secure an honorable peace.
Photo source: Valley News Live