Afghan leaders, Taliban react to Trump’s new war plan

(CBS) — Afghanistan’s government has applauded President Donald Trump’s announcement that he will send more American troops to help fight the Taliban insurgency which has plagued the country since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. The Taliban has dismissed it as a vague rehash of the same old policy — along with some of Mr. Trump’s critics at home.

Reversing his past calls for a speedy exit, President Trump recommitted the United States to the 16-year-old war in a speech on Monday, declaring U.S. troops must “fight to win.” He pointedly declined to disclose how many more troops would be dispatched to wage America’s longest war.

Donald Trump
President Donald Trump applauds as he walks off the dais after speaking at Fort Myer in Arlington Va., Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, during a Presidential Address to the Nation about a strategy he believes will best position the U.S. to eventually declare victory in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

The Afghan government lauded his remarks for focusing on the nation’s needs and conditions on the ground, instead of timelines, but as CBS News correspondent Charlie D’Agata reports, Mr. Trump’s announcement fell short of what Afghan military commanders may have hoped for. They’ve told CBS News over the course of this summer that they want three things: a lot more U.S. troops, to get them on the ground quickly, and to have them as close to the front lines as possible.

D’Agata says that while Mr. Trump’s remarks did leave some wiggle room as to the future role of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, all of the fine print —  how many troops can Afghanistan can actually expect, when they’ll arrive, and what role they’ll play, remains officially to-be-determined.

The official reaction from Afghanistan came from President Ashraf Ghani, who thanked Mr. Trump for his “affirmation of support for our efforts to achieve self-reliance and for our joint struggle to rid the region from the threat of terrorism.”

But as D’Agata reports, Afghanistan’s forces are a long way from that self-reliance. They’ve lost 40-percent of the country to the Taliban, and they remain heavily dependant on U.S. Marines, many of whom are returning to the same soil they saw their comrades fight and die to reclaim from the insurgents for the first time a decade ago.

Afghan Ambassador to the U.S. Hamdullah Mohib, meanwhile, called the newly announced policy a “10 out of 10.” He told The Associated Press by telephone from Kabul that Afghans heard “exactly what we needed to.”

U.S. Gen. John Nicholson, top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, left, talks with Col. Khanullah Shuja, commander of the national mission brigade of the Afghan special operations force, and U.S. Gen. Joseph Votel, head of U.S. Central Command, at Camp Morehead in Afghanistan on Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017. The three officers attended the launch of the Afghan Army’s new special operations corps. (AP Photo/Lolita Baldor)

Mohib said critiques of the speech for failing to disclose troop numbers were misguided. He said the focus on numbers detracts from the “real focus” on conditions and support needed for Afghanistan to succeed and achieve peace.

The ambassador also praised Mr. Trump for “breaking the silence” about Pakistan’s sheltering of what he calls terrorists. Mr. Trump emphasized the need for Pakistan to stop harboring the Taliban.

President Trump is leaving decisions about the number of new U.S. troops in Afghanistan to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. The president refused during his prime-time speech to discuss the size of the American force that his new strategy requires.

White House talking points sent to congressional Republicans after Mr. Trump’s speech say, “Troops levels are a determination for the Secretary of Defense to make, based on his judgment, and the advice of the field commanders, on the needs of the mission.”

The Pentagon has recommended sending nearly 4,000 new troops, supplementing the total of 8,400 in Afghanistan now.

The top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee criticized Mr. Trump’s speech on Afghanistan as too vague.

Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island said the plan was late in coming and “short on the details our troops and the American people deserve.”

Reed said Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told lawmakers two months ago that there was no strategy for Afghanistan. He said Mr. Trump’s repeated delays and mixed messages about the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan had harmed U.S. credibility with the country’s leaders and members of the American-led coalition.

Reed said Mr. Trump needed to use U.S. diplomacy more than he has so far. But he said Mr. Trump’s State Department was understaffed and facing steep budget cuts as part of a plan to boost U.S. military spending.

A Taliban spokesman dismissed Mr. Trump’s remarks as “old” and “unclear.”

Spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told The Associated Press, “The whole speech was old.” He said the Taliban would come out with a more detailed response, but he initially called Mr. Trump’s policy outline “unclear.”

Last week the Taliban issued a 1,600-word open letter to Mr. Trump warning against a troop surge, saying it would prolong what is already the United States’ longest war.

The Taliban have also said they aren’t ready for any peace talks, at least not until the U.S. and NATO give a time frame for withdrawal — something Mr. Trump said wasn’t going to happen.

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