Trump commits troops to war in Afghanistan

US President Donald Trump committed American troops to an open-ended war in Afghanistan, a decision the Afghan government welcomed.

US President Donald Trump committed American troops to an open-ended war in Afghanistan, a decision the Afghan government welcomed yesterday but which Taliban insurgents warned would make the country a “graveyard for the American empire.”

Trump offered few specifics in a speech on Monday but promised a stepped-up military campaign against the Taliban who have gained ground against US-backed Afghan government forces. He also singled out Pakistan for “harboring militants” in safe havens on its soil.

He discarded his previous criticism of the 16-year-old war as a waste of time and money, admitting things looked different from “behind the desk in the Oval Office.”

“My instinct was to pull out,” Trump said as he spoke of his frustration with a war that has killed thousands of US troops and cost US taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars.

But following months of deliberation, Trump said he had concluded “the consequences of a rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable” — a vacuum which terrorists “would instantly fill.”

Still, he promised an end to “nation-building” by US forces in what has become American’s longest war and stressed that ultimately Afghanistan’s struggling police and army must defeat the Taliban.

In a speech to troops in southern Kandahar, birthplace of the Taliban, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said Trump’s first formal address as commander-in-chief showed that America was “with us, without any time limit.”

“You cannot win this war,” Ghani told the Taliban, calling on them to join talks and saying Afghanistan wants peace with neighboring Pakistan.

While Trump refused to offer detailed troop numbers, senior White House officials said he had already authorized his defense secretary to deploy up to 4,000 more troops to Afghanistan.

Trump warned that the approach would now be more pragmatic than idealistic. Security assistance to Afghanistan was “not a blank check,” he said, adding: “We are not nation-building again. We are killing terrorists.”

In response, the Taliban vowed to make the country “a graveyard” for the US and said it would continue its “jihad” as long as American troops remained in the country.

“If America doesn’t withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, soon Afghanistan will become another graveyard for this superpower in the 21st century,” spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement.

Trump also indicated that his single-minded approach would extend to US relations with Pakistan, criticized by successive US administrations for links with the Taliban and for harboring leading jihadists — such as Osama bin Laden.

“We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting,” he said, warning that vital aid could be cut. “That will have to change and that will change immediately.”

Trump for the first time also left the door open to an eventual political deal with the Taliban.

“Someday, after an effective military effort, perhaps it will be possible to have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan,” he said.

“But nobody knows if or when that will ever happen,” he added, before vowing that “America will continue its support for the Afghan government and military as they confront the Taliban in the field.”

His Secretary of State Rex Tillerson went further, saying the United States would “stand ready to support peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban without preconditions.”

In 2010, the US had upward of 100,000 US military personnel in Afghanistan. Today that figure is around 8,400 US troops. More than 2,500 Afghan police and troops have been killed this year.

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