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Trump goes back on criticism of Obama and clears the way for thousands more troops in Afghanistan

Trump for the first time also left the door open to an eventual political deal with the Taliban.

Image: Carolyn Kaster/AP

US PRESIDENT DONALD Trump cleared the way for the deployment of thousands more US troops to Afghanistan, backtracking from his promise to rapidly end America’s longest war, while pillorying ally Pakistan for offering safe haven to “agents of chaos.”

In his first formal address to the nation as commander-in-chief, Trump discarded his previous criticism of the 16-year-old war as a waste of time and money, admitting things looked different from “behind the desk in the Oval Office.”

Trump had been a vocal opponent of the war during the Obama administration, criticising his predecessor for keeping troops in Afghanistan.

“My instinct was to pull out,” Trump said as he spoke of his frustration with a war that has killed thousands of US troops and cost US taxpayers trillions of dollars.

But following months of deliberation, Trump said he had concluded “the consequences of a rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable” leaving a “vacuum” that terrorists “would instantly fill.”

Tweet by @Donald J. Trump Source: Donald J. Trump/Twitter

While Trump refused to offer detailed troop numbers, senior White House officials said he had already authorised his defence secretary to deploy up to 3,900 more troops to Afghanistan.

A conflict that began in October 2001 as a hunt for the 9/11 attackers has turned into a vexed effort to keep Afghanistan’s divided and corruption-hindered democracy alive amid a brutal Taliban insurgency.

Trump warned that the approach would now be more pragmatic than idealistic. Security assistance to Afghanistan was “not a blank cheque” he said, warning he would not send the military to “construct democracies in faraway lands or create democracies in our own image.”

We are not nation building again. We are killing terrorists.

Trump indicated that single-minded approach would extend to US relations with troubled ally Pakistan, which consecutive US administrations have criticised for links with the Taliban and for harboring leading jihadists — like Osama bin Laden.

“We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organisations,” he said warning that vital aid could be cut.

“We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting,” he said. “That will have to change and that will change immediately.”

Ahead of the speech Pakistan’s military brushed off speculation that Trump could signal a stronger line against Islamabad, insisting the country has done all it can to tackle militancy.

Tweet by @Donald J. Trump Source: Donald J. Trump/Twitter

“Let it come,” army spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor told reporters, referring to Trump’s decision. “Even if it comes… Pakistan shall do whatever is best in the national interest.”

About face

U.S. Military in Kunduz Afghanistan US troops in Kunduz, Afghanistan. Source: Brian Harris/AP

Trump for the first time also left the door open to an eventual political deal with the Taliban.

“Someday, after an effective military effort, perhaps it will be possible to have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan,” he said.

“But nobody knows if or when that will ever happen,” he added, before vowing that “America will continue its support for the Afghan government and military as they confront the Taliban in the field”.

His Secretary of State Rex Tillerson went further, saying the United States would “stand ready to support peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban without preconditions”.

While wary of international entanglements, Trump has also been eager to show success and steel in the realm of national security.

As president, he has surrounded himself with military generals — from his national security advisor to his chief of staff to his defense secretary — who have urged him to stay the course.

The Trump administration had originally promised a new Afghan plan by mid-July, but Trump was said to be dissatisfied by initial proposals to deploy a few thousand more troops.

His new policy will raise questions about what, if anything, can be achieved by making further deployments, or repeating the demands of previous administrations in more forceful terms.

In 2010, the United States had upwards of 100,000 US military personnel deployed to Afghanistan. Today that figure is around 8,400 US troops and the situation is as deadly as ever.

More than 2,500 Afghan police and troops have been killed already this year.

© – AFP 2017

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