NEW YORK CITY — US President Donald Trump, in a primetime speech, said he was increasing the US military presence in Afghanistan, explaining why he decided to deploy additional troops after repeatedly criticising the war for years.
In an address to military members in Virginia, Trump said he sympathised with Americans who were “weary of war without victory” and said that he shares “the American people’s frustration” with a “foreign policy that has spent too much time, energy, money, and most importantly lives trying to rebuild countries in our own image.”
“My original instinct was to pull out, and historically I like following my instincts, but all of my life I heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office,” Trump said.
“So I studied Afghanistan in great detail and from every conceivable angle. After many meetings, over many months, we held our final meeting last Friday at Camp David, with my cabinet and generals, to complete our strategy,” he said.
Lamenting that he was dealt a “bad and very complex hand,” the president said several factors led him to implement “a shift from a time-based approach to one based on conditions.”
Trump cited the troop drawdown in Iraq, which he argued allowed ISIS to gain ground in the country, as well as a perceived threat from terrorists in Pakistan. He also called on other US allies to pitch in, singling out India as a trade partner.
Trump also insisted that Afghanistan strategy would be conducted in a manner that was coherent with his campaign vision, saying he would not give timetables for withdraw or troop levels, and emphasising repeatedly that the US military would not focus on “nation-building.”
“We are not nation-building again,” Trump said. “We are killing terrorists.”
The speech came after months of deliberation in which Trump considered various scenarios. They included deploying additional troops, shifting to a CIA-led counterterrorism operation, leaving behind a military force primarily comprised of private security forces, and pulling out of Afghanistan completely. Some of the more nationalist-leaning figures in his administration, including recently ousted chief strategist Steve Bannon, had pushed for a drawdown or complete pullout.
Eventually, after a meeting at Camp David last week, the president settled on a policy that would deploy additional US forces but attempt to convince allies like Pakistan to crack down on terrorists. Many of the retired generals in Trump’s immediate orbit — including chief of staff John Kelly, national security adviser H.R. McMaster, and Defence Secretary James Mattis — reportedly pushed for the plan.
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