Those who wished to see an end to the United States’ longest ever military venture, its sixteen year-long war in Afghanistan, were left disappointed when in late August, Donald Trump committed to send more US troops in the country.
Trump has promised a further 4,000 troops and to scrap timetables for withdrawal. He has gone further than previous US presidents in explicitly calling out Pakistan for its “failures” in dealing with jihadists operating from Pakistani territory.
The move marks a clear shift for Donald Trump, a man already not known for predictability and consistency.
Prior to his election Trump was notorious for constantly tweeting negatively about Barack Obama’s lack of success in the war in Afghanistan, repeatedly denouncing the venture as a “waste of trillions of dollars”, saying that the US should “get out immediately” and complaining that the US should be “rebuilt first”.
Donald Trump’s sudden conversion can be attributed to his Defence Secretary Mattis and National Security Adviser McMaster, both former generals who come from a US military establishment that sees Obama’s policy in Afghanistan as having been not just a failure but something that must be remedied by strength not withdrawal.
The Afghan government was officially pleased with the US shift.
Trump’s words have highlighted what many have known for years, that the war in Afghanistan is not so much about rebuilding a country or helping the Afghan people as having geostrategic control over a territory has long been used as a safe haven for jihadist organisations. In terms of that explicit objective, the US has clearly been failing in Afghanistan over the past few years.
But the belief that increased American troop presence will achieve anything substantial is naïve. In any case the main reasoning behind this latest initiative is effectively a short-term one. With the Taliban controlling large swathes of the country and ISIS/Daesh being a significant presence in Afghanistan, the US are hoping to crush the jihadist forces, as long as their co-thinkers ramp up attacks in the west.
The US war in Afghanistan cannot build a better future for the Afghan people — that is not what it’s about. The short-term goal of defeating certain jihadists is what’s most important and everything else is secondary.
And for a capricious narcissist like Trump, just about everything is secondary to posturing and looking tough.