American troops will remain in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future, President Donald Trump announced Monday evening, though he declined to reveal just how many more troops or dollars he will devote to a conflict that he’s repeatedly called a waste of the United States’ resources.
“Our nation must seek an honorable and enduring outcome worthy of the tremendous sacrifices that have been made, especially the sacrifices of lives. The men and women who serve our nation in combat deserve a plan for victory,” Trump said in his first primetime live address to the country. “The consequences of a rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable.”
Trump’s plan to stay in Afghanistan, which comes 16 years into the United States’ longest war, wasn’t a surprise, even though Trump repeatedly criticized President Barack Obama’s handling of the conflict. In 2011, he tweeted, “When will we stop wasting our money on rebuilding Afghanistan? We must rebuild our country first.” And in 2013, he added, “We have wasted an enormous amount of blood and treasure in Afghanistan. Their government has zero appreciation. Let’s get out!”
Yet what was most notable about Trump’s Monday speech was what he didn’t say: Besides declining to say how many more troops he planned to deploy to Afghanistan — though analysts have predicted a surge of about 3,000 to 5,000 more soldiers — the president declined to talk about “further military activities,” citing a need to keep that information away from “America’s enemies.” The vague announcement has the dual effect of making it harder for Trump’s critics to judge his administration’s ability to fulfill its military promises.
“Conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables, will guide our strategy from now on,” Trump said. “I will not say when we are going to attack, but attack we will.”
The U.S. government has also lifted restrictions that Trump said Obama had placed onto soldiers and kept “our commanders in the field from fully and swiftly waging battle on the enemy.” He did not specify what exactly those restrictions were.
And while Trump stressed that troops needed a clear definition of victory, his mandate for them remained broad: Eliminate terrorists.
“They are nothing but thugs and criminals and predators and, that’s right, losers. Working alongside our allies, we will break their will,” Trump said. “We are not nation-building again. We are killing terrorists.”
Analysts, however, don’t have much hope that simply sending more troops to Afghanistan will win the war. Despite the U.S. military’s efforts over the past decade and a half, the Taliban’s strength in the country remains unbroken.