While scarce on details, Trump’s address signals the US intends to enhance its military efforts in Afghanistan, with troops only withdrawing once groups like al Qaeda and the Islamic State armed group are wiped out and when the Taliban is defeated on the battlefield.
Such an effort would “take years or even further decades” of US deployment to Afghanistan, says Thomas Ruttig of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, adding such goals cannot be achieved in the short term, especially when it comes to the Taliban.
“To put it short, you need a political solution and you need to talk with the Taliban,” Ruttig says. “The Taliban don’t want to talk at the moment, because they feel strong, controlling the most territory they have had since 2001.”
Trump also accused Pakistan of sheltering extremist groups including the Taliban.
While Pakistan’s foreign office issued a carefully-worded statement stressing its “perspective and desire for peace and stability in Afghanistan,” others in the country found Trump’s remarks to be less than helpful.
“Donald Trump has just spiced up what the previous administration had been saying about Pakistan,” says Imtiaz Gul, executive director of the Islamabad-based Center for Research and Security Studies. “He has intimidated a lot, but the reality remains that Pakistan will have to be part of the solution, even if the United States considers it as part of the problem.”
Gul adds that while such remarks may be aimed to isolate Pakistan, they could have the effect of solidifying its growing ties with China, Russia, Turkey and Iran.
“Pakistan has now become part of a new regional alignment, who are all on the same page as far as regional connectivity and the peace process in Afghanistan are concerned, whereas the American, Indian and Afghan alliance thinks a bit differently,” Gul says. “Basically, Trump has added fuel to the divisions between the two blocs.”
While Trump emphasised the US mission in Afghanistan was to fight terrorists and not to participate in nation-building, a dearth of details raise questions about what any possible reinforcements would do and who exactly they would consider their adversary to be.
“It’s not just the Afghan Taliban, which remains a national insurgency that wishes to take back the government of Afghanistan from the national unity government,” says Christopher Langton, a former British colonel who now heads the consultancy Independent Conflict Research and Analysis.
“It’s also to do with Isis in Afghanistan, which is another issue entirely, because that’s an international terrorist organisation.”
Hand in hand with questions about very different groups active in the country is the lack of assessment of what the reinforcements would do.
“We hear there’s a little bit to do with training perhaps, of the Afghan national army, but are they targeted mostly on the Isis threat, or are they going to go back to being involved in fighting the Taliban in the southern provinces, such as of Helmand,” Langton says.
White House sources indicated that Trump has authorised up to 3,900 troops to join the 8,400 already in Afghanistan.
US Defence Secretary James Mattis said Tuesday that Pentagon officials would wait for more details on a plan before deciding how many troops to send.