August 23, 2018

What's Changed In Afghanistan Since President Trump Decided To Stay

By Christopher D. Kolenda

AILSA CHANG, HOST: Exactly one year ago, President Trump publicly vowed to win the war in Afghanistan even though he said his original instinct was to pull out.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We must achieve an honorable and enduring outcome worthy of the enormous price that so many have paid.

CHANG: Today, insurgents attacked the presidential palace in Kabul with mortars while Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was there speaking to the nation, calling for a cease-fire. It was one more sign that the strategy Trump announced for winning a war that's gone on for nearly 17 years may not be working. NPR's David Welna takes a closer look at that plan.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Seven months after taking office, President Trump went all in on the nation's longest-fought war. He declared in a nationally broadcast speech that, quote, "we will push onward to victory."

TRUMP: America's enemies must never know our plans or believe they can wait us out. I will not say when we are going to attack, but attack we will.

WELNA: Trump said there would be no more talk of troop numbers or arbitrary timelines for pulling out of Afghanistan. By the end of last year, he'd added 5,000 more troops to the 10,000 already there. He'd also remove restrictions on air power and cut nearly all nonmilitary spending. Aaron O'Connell served as a Marine officer in Afghanistan and as a defense policy director in the Obama White House.

AARON O'CONNELL: It's certainly President Trump's war at this point. He made the decision not just to stay but to escalate. He owns those decisions.

WELNA: Retired Army Colonel Chris Kolenda says Trump's aim was to push the Taliban to the point of surrender.

CHRIS KOLENDA: That was part of the calculus - that if we increase the advisory effort, if we put more pressure on Pakistan, if we remove the timelines, then the Taliban will want to give up the fight. That has not been the case. You've seen the Taliban continue to make some territorial gains.

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