After months of speculation, the world finally got its answer on how President Trump would deal with America’s longest ongoing war. This past Monday the president announced that he would be sending in 4,000 new troops to help shore up an ever weaker looking Afghan government which has been reeling under a new wave of Taliban pushes.
America before the announcement currently has 8,400 troops within the country, mostly special forces and troops to help train the Afghan police force and the Afghan military to help stabilize the government. The 8,400 mark was the lowest US contingent in the history of the conflict with troops numbering around 30,000 under President Bush and reaching a high of nearly 100,000 under President Obama’s ‘surge’ around 2010.
Since then point, Obama and many of the Nato nations have done a strategic reduction of forces, with Nato troops leaving entirely by 2015 leaving many to speculate that there may be one day a complete withdrawal of American forces with Afghan forces eventually taking over their own security.
However, a relatively stable situation has changed dramatically within the past year. The country, while not having lost any provincial capitals is reported to have lost up to 70%, at best 30%, of the nation’s territory to the Taliban advances. In addition, the government has been plagued by infighting among many of the ‘pro government’ warlords and has been struck by a variety of suicide attacks killing thousands of civilians.
Much of the land that remains in government hands has only been held in large part due to American firepower, which given the collapse of the Afghan government put the Trump administration in an unenviable position.
It had been reported in the New York Times, and on Trump’s own campaign trail, that the President seriously doubted whether this was a war that the United States could ever actually win given the failures of his two successors.
As such when it came time for his policy action on the war torn nation, the President was debating between three options. His first choice was to bring in more troops which were supported by many of the generals in his cabinet, his second was a full withdrawal which might lead to the collapse of the government but was very popular in the US, or to hand things over to private security or to the CIA for more covert options which take the onus off the military but could be far more expensive.
Despite his initial hesitance the president backed the idea of more troops to sure up the government and combat the advances made by the Taliban. It is unsure how much 4,000 more troops will do, or if there is an end goal in mind, but some ideas being thrown around include a fully sufficient Afghan air force by the early 2020’s but given that past estimates expected to have that by 2017 the idea remains in doubt.
It will take some time to see if the Trump administration actually has differing goals from the previous administrations or if he will continue American involvement in this quagmire that has claimed thousands of lives on all sides.
For the people of Afghanistan, the news may be welcomed by some, but a strong stable government required for a lasting peace seems to be a long ways away.