President Donald Trump and Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani delivered contradictory assessments Thursday of the situation on the ground as the U.S. military operation there enters its 16th year.
Addressing reporters together on the sidelines of a U.N. General Assembly session, the leaders offered their conflicting assessments a month after Trump altered America’s strategy and deployed more U.S. troops to Afghanistan to help indigenous forces and target extremist groups.
Trump described the situation as one in which American forces are helping Afghan troops hit the Taliban and other groups “very, very hard and very effectively” because “we really have no choice but to do it.”
Why? Because, to Trump, the country remains “a hornets’ nest” for “terrorist organizations which, for whatever reason, seem to accumulate in Afghanistan more than any place else.”
But when Ghani spoke, he told reporters that the increased number of U.S. troops already has produced “an immense change on the ground” that he described as a “difference of day and night.”
“Victory is within our sights,” Ghani boldly declared, according to a pool report.
In late August, Trump ended a months-long White House-Pentagon review by hiking the American military presence there to around 12,000. He also used his first prime-time address as president to announce a revised strategy that features a larger focus on counterterrorism operations and putting more pressure on Pakistan, where U.S. foes often flee for safe haven.
As other worlds leaders have done, Ghani was quick to heap public praise on Trump. He lauded him for making the tough decision to enhance America’s footprint and mission in Afghanistan, saying Trump made it “on the basis of courage and determination.”
Trump’s August decision marked a major reversal from his earlier public comments. Though he was mostly silent about Afghanistan as a presidential candidate, before that he once called the U.S. mission there a “complete waste.” He has explained his change of mind as saying his perspective changed after becoming commander in chief.
Perhaps his previous doubts were on his mind Thursday when he made sure to tell reporters the 12,000 or so U.S. forces there are, he claims, mostly assisting Afghan troops.
“I think it is important to understand that the Afghan soldiers are doing the fighting,” Trump said. “We are training and we’re working with them very closely — but it is the Afghans who are doing the fighting.”