President Donald Trump was set to announce an escalation of 4,000 troops in Afghanistan during a primetime address Monday night, where he planned to clarify his policy on the 16-year war he inherited from the two previous presidents.
Trump, however, did neither. His audience was left with nothing but excuses and contradictions. Trump refused to say how many troops he was sending, or set any goals or timetables for withdrawal. “We are not nation-building again,” he stressed, boasting that “we are going to participate in economic development to help defray the cost of this war to us.”
Amid all the contradictions, though, Trump did make one aspect of his policy absolutely clear: The U.S. would kill more people in Afghanistan. “We are killing terrorists,” he said. “Retribution will be fast and powerful as we lift restrictions and expand authorities.”
Trump has already expanded U.S. bombing campaigns throughout the Middle East, authorizing drone strikes at five times the rate of his predecessor, Barack Obama. Civilian casualties in the war against the Islamic State are on track to double under Trump, according to research by Airwars, which tracks coalition airstrikes in Iraq and Syria.
But in Afghanistan, Trump’s plan for more killing — and little else — ignores a crucial point: The frenzied pace of killing under the Bush administration was what led to a nearly defeated Taliban’s resurgence, bogging the U.S. down in an endless war. Trump is either forgetting the mistakes of recent U.S. history in Afghanistan or, worse, he simply doesn’t care.
In Washington, the oft-heard explanation for how the U.S. became mired in a permanent Afghanistan war centers on resources. Starting in 2003, the war in Iraq diverted troops and much-needed expertise away from Central and South Asia, allowing the Taliban to resurface as a military force.
But in his book “No Good Men Among The Living: America, the Taliban. and the War Through Afghan Eyes,” war correspondent Anand Gopal offers a much simpler explanation: The bloodlust of the Bush administration led to the resurgence of armed resistance.
Gopal meticulously documents how U.S. forces — driven by the Bush administration’s desire to kill terrorists and fill cells in Guantánamo Bay — mistakenly left a trail of dead or imprisoned business owners, community leaders, and even officials in the U.S.-backed government. Meanwhile, the Taliban, which saw a complete military collapse in 2001, was rapidly gathering public support and new members.
Along with the U.S. wars in the Middle East and Africa, casualties from U.S. airpower in Afghanistan have also been steadily increasing. Earlier this summer, a U.N. report showed a 43 percent increase in civilian casualties from U.S. and Afghan airstrikes. Local officials have accused the U.S. of bombing indiscriminately in civilian areas.
In April, the Trump administration dropped the “mother of all bombs” in Afghanistan — a weapon the U.S. had never used before due to civilian casualty concerns — then declined to conduct a damage assessment.
Trump’s policy should come as no surprise. Throughout his presidential campaign, he made little secret of his plan to increase civilian casualties, at one point saying that he wanted the U.S. to intentionally kill terrorists’ family members.
“The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families,” Trump said on the campaign trail. “When they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families.”
Trump may not care about what other presidents’ reckless war policies wrought in Afghanistan, but he certainly seems to understand what he’s trying to accomplish.