In a prime time address to the nation Monday, President Donald Trump outlined his vision for the future of the nearly 16 year conflict in Afghanistan.
In a 25 minute speech, the president said America will no longer engage in “nation building,” and will instead focus on eliminating terrorism, pointing out that Americans are weary of war without victory “after the extraordinary sacrifice of blood and treasure” in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.
“A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum that terrorists, including ISIS and Al Qaeda, would instantly fill just as happened before Sept. 11,” Trump said. “And as we know, in 2011, America hastily and mistakenly withdrew from Iraq. As a result, our hard-won gains slipped back into the hands of terrorist enemies.”
More than 8,000 U.S. troops are currently serving in Afghanistan. Trump didn’t talk specifics in Monday’s speech, but officials said he signed off on Defense Secretary James Mattis’ plans to send an additional 4,000 troops.
In recent years, Trump often called on former President Obama to pull out of Afghanistan, something he alluded to in his speech. “My original instinct was to pull out,” he said. “And historically, I like following my instincts.”
“But all my life I’ve heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office, in other words, when you’re president of the United States.”
Calling himself a “problem solver” and promising that, “in the end, we will win,” Trump said conditions will dictate military actions, not “arbitrary timetables.”
“America’s enemies must never know our plans or believe they can wait us out,” he said. “I will not say when we are going to attack, but attack we will.”
The president has already made good on that promise. From January to July, the U.S. carried out 1,984 airstrikes in Afghanistan — nearly triple the amount in the same period the year before.
Trump said American forces will continue to support the Afghan government, but it’s up to the people of Afghanistan to take ownership of their future.
“We are a partner and a friend, but we will not dictate to the Afghan people how to live or how to govern their own complex society,” he said. “We are not nation-building again. We are killing terrorists.”
“America will work with the Afghan government as long as we see determination and progress,” he continued. “However, our commitment is not unlimited, and our support is not a blank check. The government of Afghanistan must carry their share of the military, political, and economic burden.”
Trump said he’s lifted restrictions put in place by the Obama administration, saying he wants the war fighters to be able to act fully and swiftly.
“Micromanagement from Washington, D.C., does not win battles,” he said. “They’re won in the field, drawing upon the judgment and expertise of wartime commanders, and front-line soldiers, acting in real time with real authority, and with a clear mission to defeat the enemy.”
Trump also took shots at Pakistan, saying America can no longer be silent about the country’s safe havens. “Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with our effort in Afghanistan. It has much to lose by continuing to harbor criminals and terrorists,” he said.
“With our resolve, we will ensure that your service and that of your families will bring about the defeat of our enemies and the arrival of peace,” Trump said, speaking to troops stationed at the Army’s Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall outside Washington, D.C. “We will push onward to victory with power in our hearts, courage in our souls and everlasting pride in each and every one of you.”