Trump just contradicted his own Afghanistan strategy

The Pentagon referred all questions to the White House when asked for comment
January 29, 2018, 10:24pm

President Donald Trump said the U.S. is no longer interested in talks with the Taliban following a string of gruesome attacks on innocent civilians in the past week.

Funny thing is, getting the Taliban to talk is precisely the U.S. military's strategy in Afghanistan.

In comments to visiting members of the U.N. Security Council, Trump condemned the Taliban’s recent string of attacks on Kabul and said U.S. talks with the terrorist group were off the table.

"Innocent people are being killed left and right. Bombing, in the middle of children, in the middle of families, bombing, killing all over Afghanistan," Trump said at the lunch. "So we don't want to talk with the Taliban. There may be a time, but it's going to be a long time."

The last week and a half has been particularly gruesome for Afghans. A Taliban suicide bomber killed at least 103 people and wounded 235 more on Saturday by detonating an ambulance full of explosives. The attack came just a week after the group launched an overnight siege on Kabul’s Intercontinental hotel, which left 18 dead.

But Trump’s latest comments went against top officials in his own administration, including Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and the head of U.S. Central Command Gen. Joseph Votel, all of whom have repeatedly said the U.S. military’s goal is to empower Afghan forces and put pressure on the Taliban to return to the negotiating table.

"This entire effort is intended to put pressure on the Taliban; to have the Taliban understand you will not win a battlefield victory," Tillerson told reporters at a press briefing in August, which followed the release of the South Asia strategy. "We may not win one, but neither will you. So at some point, we have to come to the negotiating table and find a way to bring this to an end."

At a press conference in September, Mattis reiterated such an approach and said the U.S. was planning to send 3,000 additional troops to assist the U.S. campaign.

"I want to reinforce to the Taliban that the only path to peace and political legitimacy for them is through a negotiated settlement,” Mattis said.

Trump's comments were immediate cause for confusion online.

The Pentagon referred all questions to the White House when asked for comment. The White House did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Whether Trump’s comments signal a strategy shift remains to be seen, but the Taliban’s recent string of terror once again reveals a deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan.

Cover image: Afghan policemen inspect the site of a bomb attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, January 28, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani