Trump’s Afghan War Speech: More of the Same, With More Killing

Trump, surrounded by troops and patriotic bunting, defines his “new” Afghan strategy (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

W.J. Astore

As a private citizen and presidential candidate, Donald Trump railed against the Afghan war.  A waste, he said.  Americans should withdraw, he said.  But in last night’s speech, Trump went against his own instincts (so he said) and went with the failed policies of his predecessors.  The war will continue, no timetable set, no troop levels determined, with conditions on the ground dictating America’s actions, according to the president.

What caught my attention, beyond the usual paeans of praise to America’s “warriors” and “warfighters,” was the specious reasoning to justify the continuation of the war.  Trump gave three reasons, so let’s take them one at a time:

  1. “First, our nation must seek an honorable and enduring outcome worthy of the tremendous sacrifices that have been made, especially the sacrifices of lives …”

It’s piss-poor reasoning to argue that, because a lot of people have sacrificed and died in a war, the war should continue (with more people dying) to justify those previous sacrifices.  By this logic, the more who die, the more we should keep fighting, meaning more dead, meaning more fighting, and so on.  Where is the honor and “worthy” outcome here?

  1. “Second, the consequences of a rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable. 9/11, the worst terrorist attack in our history, was planned and directed from Afghanistan because that country was ruled by a government that gave comfort and shelter to terrorists. A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum that terrorists, including ISIS and al Qaeda, would instantly fill, just as happened before September 11th.”

Actually, the consequences of an American withdrawal are both unpredictable and (most probably) acceptable.  Sure, terrorist organizations may gain impetus from an American withdrawal.  It’s also possible that a notoriously corrupt Afghan government might finally negotiate with the Taliban and other organizations, and that regional power brokers like Pakistan and Iran, who have their own interests in regional stability, might broker a settlement that Americans could live with.

Trump further argued that a rapid U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 led to “hard-won gains slip[ping] back into the hands of terrorist enemies. Our soldiers watched as cities they had fought for, and bled to liberate, and won, were occupied by a terrorist group called ISIS.”  The truth is far more complex.  The prolonged U.S. occupation of Iraq helped to create ISIS in the first place, and failed American efforts to create and train reliable Iraqi security forces contributed to easy ISIS victories after U.S. forces left in 2011.

  1. “Third and finally, I concluded that the security threats we face in Afghanistan and the broader region are immense. Today, 20 U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations are active in Afghanistan and Pakistan — the highest concentration in any region anywhere in the world.”

Isn’t it remarkable that, after sixteen years of sustained effort by the U.S. military, the Af-Pak region is now home to 20+ terrorist organizations?  The “highest concentration” in the world?  Is this not an admission of the utter failure of U.S. policy and actions since 2001?  How is this failure to be rectified by yet more U.S. attacks?

Trump said the new American goal is to kill terrorists.  This is not a strategy.  It’s a perpetual and deadly game of Whac-A-Mole.  That’s what Trump’s vaunted new strategy boils down to, despite the talk of economic pressure and working with Pakistan and India and other regional powers.

On Afghanistan, Trump should have listened to his instincts and withdrawn.  Instead, he listened to “his” generals.  With Trump, the generals won this round.  What they can’t win, however, is the war.

18 thoughts on “Trump’s Afghan War Speech: More of the Same, With More Killing

  1. “We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond,” Trump said. “Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with our effort in Afghanistan. It has much to lose by continuing to harbor terrorists.”
    A rather public slap in the face to Pakistan. Trump also mumbled out some babble about getting India involved. Trump put the whole speech into the realm of theater like an actor on a stage, instead of speech from the oval office, he was surrounded by the military establishment.

    Anyway, have been reading a book Home from the War (Vietnam War) by Robert Lifton written in 1973. It concerns the PTSD in Vietnam War Veterans and how they tried to cope. He mentions in the book the draw down period when American Combat troops were leaving and the incidents of refusing to obey orders to go out and patrol were happening. One solution was what he labeled in his book “Numbed War”. He described numb war as, replace men who won’t fight with machines that will. The use of technology, air to ground missiles and bombs. With numb war there would be no need for large numbers grunts to patrol – call in an airstrike or artillery.

    Lifton goes on further to describe a system of non responsibility. Sharing of responsibility to the point of dissolving all individual relationship to responsibility. Here Lifton was discussing the air war. If a “sensor bug” picks up movement a drone can be sent out to destroy the target. If the target happens to be children walking to school. Well, who will know???

    Our political system has with a certainty established a system of non responsibility.


  2. A friend tweeted……
    “Somewhere in America right now there’s a 15-year-old who’ll be the first soldier born after 9/11 to be deployed to Afghanistan”
    It is awful to think, this is what the future holds for our young people!


    1. And when that young soldier, sailor, marine, or airman arrives in Afghanistan what will he or she encounter? Well, according to one U. S. Army officer interviewed by Chris Hedges for his book Death of the Liberal Class (2010):

      “Nearly half our unit had to be reassigned because their jobs had been taken over by civilians from MPRI [Military Professional Resources, Inc]. It seems that even in a war zone, soldiers are at risk of losing their jobs to outsourcing. And if you’re a reservist, the situation is even more unfortunate. You are torn from your life to serve a yearlong tour of duty away from your civilian job, your friends, and family, only to end up in Afghanistan with nothing to do because because your military duty was passed on to a civilian contractor. Eventually you are thrown onto a mentoring team somewhere, or some other responsibility is created for you. It becomes evident that the corporate presence in Afghanistan has a direct effect on combat operations.”

      As I understand the present situation, the U.S. and NATO “allies” have roughly three dogs-of-war mercenaries and/or corporate camp followers for every uniformed U.S./NATO serviceman or servicewoman deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. See: Report: Contractors outnumber U.S. troops in Afghanistan 3-to-1, by: Leo Shane III, Military Times (August 17, 2016). A key finding:

      “The latest figures available, for the first few months of 2016, show nearly 29,000 defense contractors still in Afghanistan, with fewer than 9,000 U.S. troops stationed there. About two-thirds of the contractors were foreign nationals [emphasis added], but only about 10 percent were providing security services.”

      So, if anyone wants to know what the next crop of post-9/11 young U.S. service men and women will encounter on their first deployment abroad, there you have it. U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan do little but guard opium producing poppy fields for boy-buggering warlords while providing an excuse for dogs-of-war mercenary parasites like Eric Prince’s infamous Blackwater/Xe/Academi (or whatever he calls his bloodsucking outfit these days) to feed off the American taxpayer. The cabal of U.S. generals who wrote the word-like noises that President Trump read (haltingly) off a teleprompter know all about this arrangement and heartily endorse it. Interestingly enough, they may have cut their own career throats because the recently fired Trump advisor, Steve Bannon, had proposed that the U.S. military just get out of the way and let the dogs-of-war mercenaries take over occupying and plundering Iraqi oil and Afghan “minerals” without the need of any U.S. military at all. “Privatization” carried to its logical conclusion. The American way.

      And President Donald Trump claims to have “studied” all this. To say the least, I rather doubt that.


      1. As an additional note on what the next deployment of uniformed U.S. miltiary enlisted men and women will discover when they get to Afghanistan, see the always excellent Pepe Escobar, who writes The Roving Eye column for Asia Times Online: Korea, Afghanistan and the Never Ending War Trap (While the US-backed ‘Hunger Games’ in South Korea plow on, a ‘new strategy’ for Afghanistan is really all about business. But China is already there), Russia Insider ( 8/23/2017).

        Skipping the Korea part for the relevant facts about Afghanistan:

        Once again, it’s all about BRI [China’s Belt-Road Initiative]

        … “Mad Dog” Mattis once famously said it was fun to shoot Taliban fighters. “Known unknowns” Don Rumsfeld was more realistic; he moved out of Afghanistan (toward Iraq) because there were not enough good targets to bomb.

        Anyone who spent time working/reporting on the Afghan Hindu Kush and the southwestern deserts knows why the proverbial “there’s no military solution” applies. There are myriad reasons, starting with the profound, radicalized Afghan ethnic divide (roughly, 40% are mostly rural, tribal Pashtun, many recruited by the Taliban; almost 30% are Tajik, a great deal of them urban, literate and in government; more than 20% are Hazara Shiites; and 10% are Uzbek).

        The bulk of Washington’s “aid” to Kabul throughout these past 16 years has been on the bombing, not the economy, front. Government corruption is cataclysmic. Warlords rule. The Taliban thrive because they offer local protection. Much to Pashtun ire, most of the army is Tajik. Tajik politicians are mostly close to India while most Pashtun favor Pakistan (after all, they have cousins on the other side of the Durand line; enter the dream of a future, reunited Pashtunistan).

        On the GWOT (Global War on Terror) front, al-Qaeda would not even exist if the late Dr Zbig “Grand Chessboard” Brzezinski had not come up with the idea of a sprawling, well-weaponized private army of demented jihadis-cum-tribal Afghans fighting the communist government in Kabul during the 1980s. Add to this the myth that the Pentagon needs to be on the ground in Afghanistan to prevent jihadis from attacking America. Al-Qaeda is extinct in Afghanistan. And Daesh does not need territory to concoct/project its DIY jihad.

        When the myth of the US in Afghanistan as a categorical imperative is exposed, that may unveil what this is all about: business.

        And we’re not even talking about who really profits from large-scale opium/heroin trade.

        I recommend reading the whole article, but the above should suffice to cover the basics in Afghanistan. After all that I went though in Vietnam over forty years ago, it fills me with an abiding shame and frustrated rage to think that our self-described miltiary “experts” want to send even more poorly trained and (in any case) superflous enlisted men and women — many of them reservists — into this long discredited debacle. Damn their eyes.


      2. They are still cooking the books, Mike: At FP: Foreign Policy: “The scoop on troops. The Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Lubold and Nancy Youssef finally got the Pentagon to admit something we all assumed: there are far more U.S. troops in Afghanistan than the government has said. There are actually 12,000 Americans serving in the country, and not 8,400, which has been the official number since the Obama administration.”

        “The practice of muddying the truth about deployments began under Obama, and has continued under the Trump administration. The Pentagon has said it will only count the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq who are there on long-term deployments, and not those on “temporary” deployments that only last a few months.”


      3. I watched a BBC documentary the other day about Junior ROTC programme in Chicago’s public high schools. What was striking was many said, if there were no college or job opportunities, they would join the military…. majority were African Americans and Hispanics. They are the ones who will be deployed and get killed/maimed.
        Ninety-three percent of Chicago junior reserve cadets are African American or Hispanic, according to March figures from the CPS’ Department of Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. And more than 70 percent of junior reserve programs are offered in high schools located in majority-black or majority-Latino ZIP codes, a Reporter analysis of 2010 Census data shows.
        People who WAGE wars never want to serve!


  3. Another good analysis by the always excellent Alexander Merouris:

    Trump and Tillerson: bomb the Taliban to the negotiating table, the Duran (August 24, 2017).

    Subtitle: “The latest US plan for Afghanistan: increase the violence in order to end it.”

    Yes. Of course. Quoting President Richard Nixon in his seething rage at North Vietnamese refusal to give up their decades long fight for national independence: “The bastards are going to be bombed like they’ve never been bombed before.” Then came the notorious and savage B-52 “Christmas” bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong at the end of 1972. Then? Nothing changed. Eventually the U.S. negotiated their own withdrawal and Vietnam became one nation again a few years later. That “bombing them to the negotiating table” thing just doesn’t work. But don’t expect the U.S. military to ever learn that. Those self-promoting asshats never learn anything.

    Also, I seem to recall how American military types love to say: “Amateurs do strategy but professionals do logistics.” Yet, somehow, it seems to me that the U.S. military can’t read a map showing only three routes into Afghanistan for supplies that our forces require to stay alive and not surrounded and wiped out like the British garrison retreating from Kabul a century or so previously. So come again with threatening Pakistan, Iran, and Russia? Someone had better find a “professional” and quickly. Hell, we had better find some “amateurs,” too. We Americans don’t even seem to have any of those.


  4. Mike: I always come back to domestic politics. Trump needs the military on his side, and this “policy” is what the military wants. Trump gets to pose as the commander-in-chief who “studied” the problem and who regally decided to support “his” generals and the “strategy” developed by his team. It looks good to establishment Republicans, the neo-con wings of both parties, and (of course) the military-industrial complex. I think Ann Coulter tweeted “the Complex” won, and I have to agree with her.


  5. The govt cooks books and the media ignores ( willfully ) imho, the total reality.
    Erik Prince ( was shocked to see him on C-SPAN Washington Journal pushing for privatisation! ) and the Generals decide how many Afghan civilians will be killed!!
    Shame on the media for not informing the citizenry what the govt is doing in its name….
    Strange, the Prez cares about babies killed in Syria only…. other children do not matter!! Because, that is only “collateral damage”!!! How sick it is?!


  6. I am no fan of Steve Bannon. However, he correctly describes the situation concerning North Korea: >>> “There’s no military solution, forget it. Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that 10 million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.”<
    The talking empty heads on FOX, CNN,and MSNBC ignored the potential carnage in South Korea that would result from a war there.

    David M. Shoup, Marine Corp General and Commandant of the Marine Corps was an early canary in the coal mine concerning Vietnam. Shoup retired from the military in December 1963. From Wiki: On 14 May 1966, Shoup began publicly attacking the (Vietnam) policy in a speech delivered to community college students at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, California, for their World Affairs Day.

    I believe that if we had and would keep our dirty, bloody, dollar-soaked fingers out of the business of these nations so full of depressed, exploited people, they will arrive at a solution of their own—and if unfortunately their revolution must be of the violent type because the "haves" refuse to share with the "have-nots" by any peaceful method, at least what they get will be their own, and not the American style, which they don't want and above all don't want crammed down their throats by Americans.

    Back then in 1966 and forward into 1968 the drum beats were for escalation in Vietnam from the military and in the press, more troops more bombing – Search and Destroy. These were the Hawks. The Hawks might differ on strategy and tactics, but the reason for hundreds of thousands of Americans being sent to Vietnam was not called into question. There is no difference today with Afghanistan, although the numbers of US Troops is far less.

    Shoup's critique of the American Military in SE Asia, went far beyond strategy and tactics. He questioned the whole idea of intervention, as another Marine General Smedley Butler did.


  7. I posted a comment a while ago but I guess, it has disappeared in the cyberspace.
    Erik Prince ( was shocked to see him on C-SPAN Washington Journal talking about privatising the war ) and the Generals convinced the Prez to continue killing!
    Shame on MSM for not mentioning the civilian toll in Afghanistan of USA bombardment….. they accept what the govt labels “collateral damage” as just.
    One has to really dig to find this kind of information which the citizenry must be informed of to know what the govt is doing in its name!
    How much longer innocent people will have to suffer?
    I have not yet seen any mention of repeal of UAMF legislation coming up. Can one hope, some will act??


    1. RS, there is H.R.1666 – To prohibit the availability of funds for activities in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, and for other purposes. Among other items listed in HR 1666 is:

      ” The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), John Sopko, has documented billions of dollars of waste, fraud, and abuse of American taxpayers hard-earned money in Afghanistan, which continues to this day. For example:

      (A) According to a 2016 USA Today article entitled “Report cites wasted Pentagon money in Afghanistan”, among the more egregious examples of boondoggles Sopko cited included “importing rare blond Italian goats to boost the cashmere industry”. The $6 million program included shipping nine male goats to western Afghanistan from Italy, setting up a farm, lab, and staff to certify their wool.

      (B) An ongoing SIGAR investigation found that American taxpayers are paying as many as 200,000 fictitious Afghan “ghost” soldiers, potentially costing hundreds of millions of dollars annually.”

      Sadly, it has only 13 Co-Sponsors.


      1. Thank you for the info MonotonousLanguor. I checked and the last activity was on April 27th with introductory remarks by the sponsor… no further action has been taken. Considering there are ONLY 13 Co-Sponsors, I guess the speaker is no hurry to bring the bill to the floor…. not surprising. One has to only ask, “Who Profits?” with Pentagon generously doling out money in contracts … someone’s pockets and corruption! Some years ago, I heard Mr Peter Van Buren on Fresh Air on NPR and it was shocking how much fraud and waste was involved.
        Sadly, nothing seems to have changed. Unfortunately and sadly those who are just surviving and pay their taxes, their tax money is being used to wage wars and they have no say in the matter.


  8. I cannot stand to listen to the bombastic voice of Trump on any subject let alone Afghanistan, so I rely on hearsay concerning his Afghanistan ‘strategy’ speech.
    No surprise that there are three ‘shadow’ contractors to each officially acknowledged military. Aside from the usual accountability question and the exorbitant salaries they are paid from US taxpayers’ contributions, I wonder what those 20.000 odd contractors are doing there? Many – at least 10 – years ago I found an intriguing add on a UN website with job offers in relief work all over the world.
    Some outfit called Eureka was looking for researchers for its office in Kabul. As I had never heard of them and I’m suspicious of fancy acronyms or titles, I checked the link that normally would lead to a company or NGO profile, but litterally all I found was a telephone number, in the US. I traced it to Newtown Ohio and lo & behold, there was an Eureka Farm based there, which belonged to some TV business guru called Doug Hall, with that telephone number. No word of course of any research project in Kabul, nor did I ever find any mention of that at later dates, when new advertising would appear and I would not resist the temptation to check once more. They later provided some sort of company profile that would again lead to the Eureka Farm, but never any mention of any presence in Afghanistan. Nor did I ever encounter any trace of their ‘research institution’ in Kabul itself. Mind the ‘post-conflict setting’ euphemism to describe Afghan field reality … I suppose Mr Hall – after all a business guru of genius – ‘franchised’ his company brand name to one of a wide choice of US intelligence gathering outfits in Afghanistan.

    Similarly a few years ago an – I suppose NATO – drive tried to ensnare European university staff – linguists, orientalists, psychologists, sociologists etc – for Humint work in Afghanistan. Potentially exploitable academic staff received an invitation letter deviously suggesting that their invaluable professional input would help the armies to act more diligently and thus make less civilian victims … According to the letter, that programme was coordinated by a university in Granada (Spain), but on their website there was no trace of any of this. The friend who showed me that letter flatly refused without mincing his words, but how many will have either believed the shameless propaganda or have been lured into collaboration by the ‘easy’ additional income? Their work would be to stay quietly at home and analyse and explain field research findings they would be provided with. Including Eureka research findings I presume. Not to mention ‘open source research’ data from progress reports of any development project (co-)financed by USAID or other US institutions such as USDA. why else would such reports have to be produced on a monthly – or even weekly! – basis ?


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