For years, Donald Trump repeatedly called for a total withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, calling military operations there a waste of money and lives. But now, as president, Trump will use his first primetime address to the nation on Monday to announce a new strategy in Afghanistan.
According to multiple reports, Trump will tell the country that he plans to send thousands of additional troops to the country. If those reports prove accurate, Trump will be pursuing a strategy that breaks sharply from his public statements dating back more than six years.
Trump did not spend much time during the campaign discussing Afghanistan, instead continuing to stress the importance of addressing domestic problems. “Places like Afghanistan are safer than some of our inner cities,” Trump said during a campaign rally in September 2016.
In October 2015, Trump said that the initial decision to invade Afghanistan after 9/11 was a “terrible mistake.” He allowed, however, that U.S. troops should stay there for the time being. “I would leave the troops there begrudgingly believe me I’m not happy about it,” Trump said. He did not mention a troop surge. (A few days later, a campaign aide tried to claim he was referring to the Iraq war as a mistake, an interpretation that is not supported by the transcript.)
Trump’s policy in Afghanistan thus far has been amorphous, even as fighting has grown more deadly and ISIS has made inroads. In April, the military dropped what’s known as a MOAB (Mother of All Bombs) which, according to the administration, targeted a network of tunnels used by ISIS.
Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist who left the White House last week, had been pushing to replace the roughly 9,000 U.S. troops currently in Afghanistan with private mercenaries.
CORRECTION: This piece previously said that the military dropped a MOAB in September. It has been updated to reflect that it was actually dropped in April.