Politics

Beefing Up Afghan Troop Level Would Be Major Shift for Trump

In 2012, he called conflict ‘complete waste,’ adding, ‘Time to come home!’

U.S. Army 1st Lt. Melissa Fusco gives candy to an Afghan boy on the streets in Logar Province in Afghanistan in 2009. President Donald Trump will address the nation Monday night on his plan for U.S. military operations there. (Courtesy Spc. Richard Jones/Wikimedia Commons)

President Donald Trump is expected to announce Monday night that he is sending thousands more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, breaking with his yearslong disdain for the nearly 16-year-old conflict there.

As a candidate, Trump rarely talked about the Afghanistan War and stability operation other than to disparage it. He used it as an example of why his nationalistic approach would be better than any of his Republican or Democratic foes, arguing the George W. Bush and Obama administrations had wasted billions of dollars there for little strategic gain.

To the now-president, that money should have been spent at home to rebuild the nation’s aging roads, airports, bridges, and ports. But as commander in chief, things change. The generals weigh in, as do senior Cabinet-level national security officials and career Defense Department experts.

So on Monday, at a military facility in suburban Washington, D.C., Trump will announce his decision on whether to keep the more than 10,000 American forces in Afghanistan to continue assisting the country’s slow-to-professionalize indigenous security force, or to bring home all U.S. forces now there. The president tweeted on Saturday that he made his decision during a Friday national security summit with his team at Camp David.

And Defense Secretary James Mattis a day later said Trump’s decision had been made, after a “rigorous” review.

pre-speech-afgh

The administration’s Afghanistan review took place over the first seven months since Trump took office, as his national security team searched for options that might please a skeptical president.

One U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters that Trump’s top national security aides support adding between 3,000 and 5,000 troops and allowing them to embed with Afghan forces closer to combat.

Sending that many American troops to add to the 8,400 already there would amount to a major policy flip-flop for Trump, who, as far back as 2012, was calling for the Obama administration to end the U.S. operation.

In August of that year, for instance, he questioned why Washington was spending millions to train “Afghanis who then shoot our soldiers in the back?”

“Afghanistan is a complete waste,” he wrote before he was a presidential candidate. “Time to come home!”

In November 2013, Trump took a stance that would later form the basis of his standard campaign-trail line about the Afghanistan conflict.

He tweeted that America has “wasted an enormous amount of blood and treasure in Afghanistan.”

“Their government has zero appreciation,” Trump wrote. “Let's get out!”

If Trump opts to keep some American forces there, it will please hawkish Republican lawmakers. 

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a senior Armed Services member, told Fox News Radio in June that the new strategy is one he is “very excited about.”

“I’ve never been more proud of President Trump and his team than I am right now,” the South Carolina Republican said then.

Graham said the strategy will require U.S. forces to have more active engagement with the enemy in Afghanistan. He contrasted that to the troop levels and restrictions imposed under President Barack Obama.

But expect many Democrats to express doubts that 3,000 to 5,000 additional American forces spread over the vast country won’t make much of a difference.

Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Benjamin L. Cardin, for instance, said Sunday he has yet to hear about any Trump strategy and he was opposed to sending additional forces.

“I don’t believe putting more American soldiers in Afghanistan is the answer,” the Maryland Democrat said, criticizing Trump for failing to first articulate a strategy for the operation there.

“I don’t know if I’m in agreement with the president because I haven’t heard what the president’s plan is in Afghanistan. I haven’t seen an articulated strategy,” Cardin said on “Fox News Sunday.”

“We’ve invested a great deal in Afghanistan,” Cardin said. “Our objective needs to be that we have a regime in Afghanistan that can maintain some semblance of security so that we don’t see growing terrorist organizations again within Afghanistan. That’s our objective.”

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

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