Analysis

US President Donald J. Trump’s new strategy for Afghanistan effectively puts the onus on Pakistan to end its support for terrorists.

If this strategy is to succeed, the United States must “adopt a very serious policy toward Pakistan,” said C. Christine Fair, the provost’s distinguished associate professor in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University.

In an August 21 speech, Trump said Washington could “no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations.”

“We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting ... that will have to change,” Trump added.

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US President Donald J. Trump should have stuck to his original line of questioning of his national security team before sharing his new “strategy” on Afghanistan and South Asia: what outcome are we seeking, and how will we get there?

Trump’s August 21 speech, in which he outlined his policy on Afghanistan, exemplified the truth of Lewis Carroll’s quotation from Alice in Wonderland: “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.”

Long on assertions, but short on specifics, Trump’s speech failed to lay out a clear roadmap to “victory” that is based on history and regional ground realities. Indeed, Trump did not identify any benchmarks for actions to be taken by Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Russia, or even the United States.

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US president’s policy will send a clear message to the region, said Atlantic Council’s James B. Cunningham

US President Donald J. Trump’s approach to Afghanistan—marked by an indefinite US troop presence—sends a clear signal of the United States’ commitment to ending the war in that country, said James B. Cunningham, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.

“This is the first time that it is clear that the United States and its international partners are in this for the long term, and that we are going to make our future decisions based on events that are happening on the ground and in the region and not against a timeline,” he said.

Trump’s August 21 speech, in which he outlined his policy on Afghanistan, also sends an important message to Pakistan, which, by providing safe haven to terrorist groups like the Taliban and the Haqqani Network, has been an impediment to ending the nearly sixteen-year-old war in Afghanistan, said Cunningham.

“One of the things that has impeded the effort to get Pakistan to act has been Pakistan’s own doubts about what the American goals and commitments are in the longer term. Now that the president has spoken to that that should be the basis for approaching them with a different set of choices,” he said.

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Atlantic Council’s Sean McFate warns against plan that would rely more on military contractors

A proposal that would have the United States rely more heavily on private military contractors instead of US troops, and install what would essentially be a US viceroy in Afghanistan, is an example of “reckless foreign policy,” according to Sean McFate, a nonresident senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center.

Erik Prince, the founder of the controversial private security firm Blackwater and the brain behind the proposal, says it will reduce the cost of America’s longest war and allow the United States to shrink its troop presence in Afghanistan.

McFate agrees that what the plan has going for it is that contractors are cheaper than US troops. Nevertheless, he added, there are serious problems with Prince’s proposal, the first being that it is “deeply un-American.”

“Using a neocolonial model to ‘fix’ Afghanistan is preposterous,” said McFate, a former private military contractor who has worked in Africa.

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Russia has decisively expanded its global footprint in a way that analysts say challenges the West and will force US President Donald J. Trump to rethink his “America First” strategy.

This challenge extends well beyond Russia’s neighborhood—Ukraine, Georgia, and the Baltic States—to Syria, Libya, and even Afghanistan. Western governments and intelligence agencies have also accused Russia of meddling in elections in the United States and Europe.

John E. Herbst, director of the Atlantic Council’s Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center, said Russian President Vladimir Putin is “pursuing a clear revisionist agenda designed to change the post-Cold War order in Eurasia; permit Moscow to establish a clear sphere of influence in the post-Soviet space; weaken NATO and the EU; weaken the transatlantic relationship; diminish American prestige and power; and project Russian power globally.”

With this as a backdrop, Trump and Putin will meet on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7. The meeting takes place amid investigations by a special prosecutor and congressional committees into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

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US President Donald J. Trump’s America First approach will have to take a back seat when it comes to Afghanistan.

As the Trump administration wrestles with a decision on whether to send several thousand additional US troops to Afghanistan in an effort to end a fifteen-year-old war and make peace with the Taliban, there is a firm belief in policy circles that there is a critical need for the United States to deepen its engagement in that country.

Yet, with Trump there is a “real possibility that the United States, if it is not successful within some acceptable period of time, could choose to reduce its commitment to Afghanistan and ultimately withdraw,” said Ashley Tellis, Tata chair for strategic affairs at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “If that outcome occurs the door will be open to internecine regional competition in Afghanistan, which will only make circumstances in Afghanistan worse,” he added.

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By dropping the ‘mother of all bombs’ on an Islamic State target, the United States reaffirmed its commitment to fighting terrorism, said the Atlantic Council’s James B. Cunningham

The United States sent a clear message of its commitment to fighting terrorism when it dropped the so-called mother of all bombs on an Islamic State target in Afghanistan on April 13, said James B. Cunningham, a nonresident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center.

“It really is a military instrument used to accomplish a military task,” said Cunningham, a former US ambassador to Afghanistan, adding, “there is a political element to it as well in terms of showing our commitment and determination in this particular fight.”

The US military dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb in its arsenal on an Islamic State cave and tunnel complex in Achin district in Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province. The GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB), dubbed the “mother of all bombs,” is a 21,600-pound, GPS-guided munition. While dozens of people are believed to have been killed in the explosion, the Afghan defense ministry said civilians were not among the casualties.

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Afghan foreign minister sees threat to peace process

Russia’s support for the Taliban—a terrorist group with which the United States has been at war for more than fifteen years and that is dedicated to overthrowing Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government—is causing considerable unease in Afghanistan where officials worry it will undermine efforts to make peace in their war-torn country.

“[E]stablishing contacts with these terrorist groups will give them a wrong message and they will think that the international community is recognizing them,” said Salahuddin Rabbani, Afghanistan’s foreign minister and a former head of the country’s High Peace Council. This, in turn, would undercut a peace and reconciliation process because the Taliban “will not be encouraged to come to the negotiating table,” he added.

The peace process has had scant success in part because, as Rabbani noted, Afghanistan’s eastern neighbor, Pakistan, continues to provide material support and sanctuary for the terrorists.

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Tighten your seat belts! South Asia, along with much of the rest of the world, should get ready for a more muscular, business-like, and unorthodox foreign policy under US President Donald Trump. His team of security and foreign policy experts, many of whom have unorthodox backgrounds and credentials, will help him implement a more personalized and business-like foreign relations regime. Trump has wasted no time in seizing the opportunity to reshape US foreign policy to better define and align it with US interests as he sees them.

Other than his self-created crisis in dealing with refugees and immigrants from the Musllim World, two areas will demand Trump’s immediate attention: the war in Afghanistan and foreign aid.

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Commitments at Warsaw and Brussels would send a clear signal to the Taliban, said official

NATO’s Warsaw summit in July and a European Union conference in Brussels in October must provide clear commitments to Afghanistan in order to boost the prospects of peace in that country, a senior Obama administration official said at the Atlantic Council on June 21.

Asserting a US commitment to an Afghan-led peace process with the Taliban, Richard Olson, the US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said: “The Taliban’s leadership, with its refusal to come to the negotiating table, has apparently reached a different conclusion. Perhaps they believe victory through violence in achievable; perhaps they remain unconvinced of the sincerity of the invitation to negotiate.”

“The Taliban are mistaken if they think they can wait for us to withdraw our support believing that the Afghan forces will somehow become vulnerable to defeat as the international community disengages,” he said. “This is why the commitments at Warsaw, including the funding through 2020, are so important. That is the only way to demonstrate that the commitment is going to be lasting and that if the Taliban seek to have a role in Afghanistan it will have to be through negotiations.”

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