PESHAWAR: When on Aug 19, US President Donald Trump tweeted, “Important day spent at Camp David with our very talented generals and military leaders. Many decisions made, including on Afghanistan,” there was little doubt what his much-anticipated policy on America’s longest war in Afghanistan would be.
Exactly a month earlier, on July 19, Trump had fumed that “we are losing” the war. The frustrated president suggested firing the commander of the US forces in Afghanistan, Gen John W. Nicholson. In the same meeting, Trump grumbled that while US soldiers were fighting, the Chinese were making money off rare mineral resources — with a value estimated at $1 trillion — in Afghanistan.
He then vented over the lack of a strategy and the time it was taking to formulate one, drawing a comparison with an elite New York restaurant, 21 Club, whose owner had hired a consultant to salvage his failing business. The consultant, Trump continued, took a year to recommend that what the restaurant really needed was a bigger kitchen. By Trump’s reckoning, that was a waste of time and money.
So why would a realtor risk putting more money and resources into a war which, by his own admission, the US is not winning, particularly when his own intuition dictates a pull-out?
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction in its 36th quarterly report released on July 30 estimated that the total American spending on the war and reconstruction in Afghanistan stands at $714 billion, including $675bn obligated for the Department of Defence in the last 15 years.
In his speech, Trump shared his “frustration over a foreign policy that has spent too much time, energy, money and most importantly lives trying to rebuild countries in our image instead of pursuing our security interests.” The “path forward in Afghanistan and South Asia” is much the same.
There are two distinctions, however. Unlike the past, Trump’s way forward singles Pakistan out for the mess in Afghanistan. And, in a broader regional context, it allows a greatly expanded role for India not just in “economic assistance and development” but also in “peace and security in South Asia and the broader Indo-Pacific region.”
The surge in troop levels, broad authorisations, and changes in the rules of engagement to allow for greater freedom of action at the field and tactical level, have been tried in the past in 2009 under the Obama administration; they did not work.