LIberty Expose: The Return to Afghanistan

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Amongst the rapture that followed the judgement at Charlottesville came the announcement of the Trump administration’s new strategy in the War in Afghanistan. Last August in a televised speech from Fort Myer, President Trump have a speech outlining the future of the War in Afghanistan. As to be expected, both strategically and rhetorically, President Trump’s speech was dedicated towards reversing the Obama administration’s policy in the war.

The policy is a reverse of what the president has said both before and during the campaign. President Trump has previously voiced skepticism of the American presence in Afghanistan, going as far as to argue that the United States should withdrawal from the conflict. The speech the president gave was a complete reversal from that policy, which, to the president’s credit, he admitted in his speech.

The last few years of the war in Afghanistan have been unfavorable for the United States. Thus far, the Afghan government has failed to put down the Taliban and other insurgent forces. Territory previously won from the Taliban by the United States after years of fighting is being retaken by the insurgents. The Taliban have increased attacks against Afghan government forces and casualties have been mounting. The terrorist threat is becoming increasingly diverse as groups such as the Islamic State have infiltrated Afghanistan.

 To the government’s benefit, ISIS and the Taliban are at war with each other, so a united front between the two terrorist groups in not a threat to Afghanistan. Recently, more powers have become active in Afghanistan’s war. Iran and Russia have been found to have been supporting the Taliban, and India in its ongoing conflict with Pakistan is attempting to get involved in Afghanistan. Pakistan involves itself in Afghanistan as well, though, according to many including President Trump, is done in a negative aspect.

Part of the strategy included an increase in the number of American troops by several thousand. Currently, the United States has around 8,400 personnel engaged in Afghanistan. The actual number proposed to be sent is vague; President Trump stated that he would not go into detail as to the number of troops being sent or how they would be utilized when the troops arrive. As the Trump administration is typically difficult to analyze, whether this is strategic wisdom or policy indecisiveness is uncertain.

The president went on to state that he did not want to set a timetable for a pullout of troops by stating “conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables, will guide our strategy for now on.” This is a departure from the Obama administration’s policy toward Afghanistan.

The policy pursued by Obama was centered around the ceasing of combat operations in Afghanistan in 2014. Obviously, this policy did not account for the resurgence of the insurgent threat in Afghanistan, both by traditional enemies such as the Taliban, and by new threats such as the Islamic State.

The policy of setting a timetable in an asymmetric war such as Afghanistan and Iraq has been criticized for because setting a public timeframe gives the enemy the ability to know when to begin fighting again. Politically, setting a policy of a timed pullout is vacuous; a resurgence of a threat will demand extending the presence in the country, which will lead to a political disaster, and withdrawing, even with an increased threat, is a political disaster. It is a losing situation and an imprudent campaign promise and strategy.

In one of the positive aspects of the Trump administration’s national security policy, the president has pursued a policy of allowing more anatomy for the military to operate outside the political chains of Washington. Again, whether this is strategic wisdom or admittance of non-expertise is indeterminable. However, this is another reversal of an Obama administration policy. To the annoyance of US commanders, the previous administration set restrictions on potential offensive options of US forces after the strategic torch was handed to the Afghan government forces.

One of the key points in President Trump’s announcement of his new strategy last August leaned heavily on distancing the United States from a policy of nation building. In his classical Trumpian oratory, President Trump emphasized winning battles as opposed to pursuing a long-term strategic policy. The president boosted of "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."  

Despite the otherwise meaningless rhetoric of fighting and victory, the new strategy, at least what is known about it, is a positive development for the American strategy in Afghanistan and for the larger global American strategy. During the campaign, there were legitimate fears of a return to an isolationist foreign policy like that of pre-war America. The commentators where wrong.

Though the foreign policy of the Trump administration has thus far not been defined, the new strategy in Afghanistan both shows a degree of hubris in the foreign policy realms and a reversal of any revolutionary change in American foreign policy. Though the United States does need a change in doctrine that accommodates to the new threats of the post-Cold War world, the theorized policy theorized would have been a reversal of almost a century in American gains. Luckily, progress has been made for a stronger American strategic presence in the world; and it could not have come from a more unlikely source.