President Donald Trump announced a new U.S. strategy in Afghanistan on Monday, but his plan lacked major details, like a timetable and even the number of U.S. troops that will be stationed in the country. Trump refused to elaborate out of a belief that “America’s enemies must never know our plans.”
“As a result of our comprehensive review, American strategy in Afghanistan and south Asia will change dramatically in the following ways,” Trump said at the Fort Myer military base in Arlington, Virginia. “A core pillar of our new strategy is a shift from a time-based approach to one based on conditions. I’ve said it many times how counterproductive it is for the United States to announce in advance the dates we intend to begin or end military options. We will not talk about numbers of troops, or our plans for further military activities. Conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables, will guide our strategy from now on. America’s enemies must never know our plans, or believe they can wait us out. I will not say when we are going to attack, but attack we will.”
Trump also said he would discuss a broader strategy for South Asia, but again, he did not provide details on what that strategy would actually be.
He said that neighboring Pakistan must change its strategy, but did not clarify what his administration would do to create that change. “We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars, at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting. But that will have to change. And that will change immediately,” he said, before discussing how much better of a U.S. ally India is. “Another critical part of the south Asia strategy for America is to further develop its strategic partnership with India, the world’s largest democracy, and a key security and economic partner of the United States. We appreciate India’s important contributions through stability in Afghanistan, but India makes billions of dollars in trade with the United States, and we want them to have them help us more in Afghanistan, especially in the area of economic assistance and development.”
Trump’s refusal to provide clarity on U.S. strategy in Afghanistan fits with his administration’s general approach to Afghanistan the last seven months. Until Monday, the White House seemed torn between sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan or shifting toward a strategy relying on private contractors. In April, the United States dropped its largest non-nuclear bomb, nicknamed the “mother of all bombs” (MOAB), in eastern Afghanistan, but it wasn’t clear who authorized the bombing. This may be due to a general unfamiliarity of the major issues in Afghanistan. Throughout his speech on Monday, Trump made basic errors about the situation in Afghanistan, referring to it as a 17-year war (it is currently 16 years) and mentioning the extremist groups Al Qaeda and ISIS but not the Taliban, which still controls a large portion of the country.
His refusal to provide more clarity on Afghanistan is not only likely to stretch America’s longest war on even longer, but it’s also not clear that it will even work.