President Donald Trump called for further and stronger military action in Afghanistan during a speech Monday. The declarations were made from Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Arlington, Va.
Trump didn’t specify which military actions are to take place in the country, nor how many troops will be sent to Afghanistan. There are currently about 10,000 American forces remaining in the Asian country today. Most of those troops are restricted from doing anything other than “train and assist” missions with Afghan commandos.
The president’s remarks were met with surprise by leaders and people across the world, including the Taliban, who expected Trump would call for a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan. Nevertheless, despite Trump’s call for further military presence, the Taliban said its “happy to continue” the 16-year war with the U.S.
Trump backs a continued military presence in Afghanistan
Trump’s words come in light of several terrorist attacks that have shaken Europe in recent days. He’s pledged to continue the fight against ISIS, al-Qaeda, and the Taliban.
“Our troops will fight to win. We will fight to win,” said Trump on Monday, according to Politifact. “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 the United States before they occur.”
In his speech, Trump also called on Pakistan to become a stronger ally against terrorists. He said that Pakistan has often given “safe haven to agents of chaos, violence, and terror.” Politifact reports that the United States-Pakistan relationship has been “thorny” for a long time.
While the two countries are allies on counterterrorism, the U.S. has often seen Pakistan as unable to present a united front against terrorism. The best example to illustrate that occurred when the Obama administration sent a SEAL team to the country to kill Osama Bin Laden without notifying Pakistani officials in advance, as they feared that someone within the government could give away the secret and ruin the operation.
Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday it is committed to fighting terrorism and said allegations claiming they provide safe haven to militants are “a false narrative.” Pakistani Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal told reporters the country has rendered “unmatched sacrifices” in the war against terrorism. He noted their war against terror is not because of the U.S. and that they will continue fighting.
Trump also called on U.S.’ NATO allies and global partners to support their new strategy, with “additional troop and funding increases in line with our own.” However, he didn’t clarify how many troops will be sent overseas.
Retired U.S. Army officials met Trump’s remarks with cautious optimism
The announcement was met with mixed reactions from experts around the world. Retired U.S. Army Maj. Jim Grant said the new strategy has “key ingredients for success,” although he’s cautious about the outcomes. Grant, also known as “Lawrence of Afghanistan” is one of the few military strategists who succeeded in the fight in the Asian country, ABC News reports.
Gant’s success in the region was mostly because of his “Village Stability Operations.” The strategy involved special operations forces living inside Pashtun tribal villages in the rural areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan. These Special Forces agents were instructed to befriend the tribesmen –which included living with them, eating with them, fighting or even dying with them—to win their loyalty and turn them against Taliban insurgents.
Gant led a VSO team and earned the respect of the insurgents in the Kunar province, who called him “Commander Jim.” Despite the VSO’s success in some areas of the country, the program was shut down after just two years, when then-President Obama ordered most troops to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2012.
Retired Lt. Col. Scott Mann said VSO was the only thing that ever worked in the country. He said Trump’s remarks left him “underwhelmed” because it was mostly tough talk and few specifics. Mann believes the war on terrorism requires long campaigns –much like the VSO program—if they want to achieve something.
“That’s when all my ‘spidey sense’ started going off,” Mann told ABC News regarding Trump’s few specifics in his speech. “This needs to be a fifty to a hundred-year campaign. It requires persistence and presence. Colombia should be a model, not Iraq.”
Taliban is ‘happy to continue fight’ against the U.S.
The declarations from the U.S. president brought forth defiance by the Taliban. The Taliban had called for special prayers in the hope Trump would request the withdrawal of all American troops in Afghanistan, members of the group told NBC News.
However, Trump went the opposite way and called for stronger and further actions. The Taliban, which regained control of swaths of Afghanistan since being toppled in 2001, said that while they hoped the American troops would leave their country, they are happy to keep fighting against the U.S.
“We know how to defend our motherland,” one of the Taliban commanders, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told NBC News. “If we could fight this war for 16 years with limited resources against the world’s well-equipped armies, we are happy to continue this fight against the enemy.”
Another commander said President Trump also, like his predecessors, failed to understand Afghanistan and the problems there. The group said Trump too “succumbed to the pressure and misinformation of his military commanders and succeeded in wasting their human lives and resources” in the country.
The Taliban issued an official statement threatening that if the U.S. did not pull out of Afghanistan, the group would “make this country the 21st-century graveyard for the American empire.”