By JAMES KITFIELD
When he stepped before the cameras last night to deliver his first prime time address to the nation, Donald Trump became the third president to reluctantly take ownership of the war in Afghanistan. After campaigning on ending costly entanglements for a war-weary country, the president admitted he was hemmed in by some hard realities.
“A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum that terrorists, including ISIS and al Qaeda, would instantly fill, just as happened before 9/11,” Trump said. “Today, 20 U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations are active in Afghanistan and Pakistan — the highest concentration in any region anywhere in the world.”
Though Trump declined to provide specific numbers, the new Afghan strategy he unveiled last night includes roughly 4,000 additional U.S. reinforcements to the 8,400 presently deployed. U.S. officials say the new strategy will involve: helping improve the Afghan government’s ability to support and regenerate Afghan Security Forces who suffered 6,700 casualties just in the past year; relaxing the rules of engagement for U.S. airpower; rejecting deadlines for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, instead using “conditions on the ground” as the primary metric of success; persuading NATO allies to increase their own troop levels in Afghanistan; and putting significant new pressure on Islamabad to target the Taliban and allied extremist groups operating in Pakistan.
“We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond,” Trump said. “Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with our effort in Afghanistan. It has much to lose by continuing to harbor criminals and terrorists.”
Trump becomes the third U.S. president to try and pressure Pakistan to take a harder line on the Afghan Taliban and allied extremist groups operating on its territory, some of which its intelligence services support as proxies. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has already withheld $50 million in funding from Pakistan because he can’t certify that Islamabad “has taken sufficient action against the Haqqani Network,” a particularly lethal branch of the Afghan Taliban. To help prod Pakistan to action, Trump touted America’s close relations with India, saying America would “further develop its strategic partnership with India,” saying “we want them to help us more with Afghanistan, especially in the area of economic assistance and development.”
Read the full story at Breaking Defense