Donald Trump has probably never heard of the Grand Old Duke of York and his 10,000 men. But in spelling out his new Afghan strategy, the US president gave a good impersonation of that symbol of military muddle-headedness, incompetence and futility immortalised in the English nursery rhyme.
By marching US troops back up the Afghan hill, having previously solemnly vowed to march them down and out of the country, Trump risks the worst of both worlds: leaving the US and its allies neither up nor down, without a clearly defined mission, and stuck in the middle of a worsening conflict.
His speech on Afghanistan on Monday night was long delayed, and it is easy to see why. White House advisers had been arguing for months over what to do about the 16-year-old war, America’s longest. When the speech came, there were no new ideas or initiatives. Instead Trump retained the main planks of Barack Obama’s policy and tried to dress it up as something fresh.
Two things have changed. One is that Trump has agreed with his generals that troop levels must be increased, reversing the drawdown during the Obama years. There are nearly 10,000 US military personnel in Afghanistan, mostly special forces, advisers and trainers. That figure looks likely to rise by about 4,000, though Trump gave no number.
The other change is more dangerous. After the searing US experience in Iraq, policymakers broadly agreed that future overseas missions should have attainable objectives, a fixed duration, and a clear exit strategy. Not setting such parameters in advance was George W Bush’s big mistake in Iraq. Obama was careful not to repeat it.
Trump has ignored that hard-won knowledge. He has committed the US to waging an open-ended conflict with no limit on its scope or duration, and with no agreed measure of what constitutes victory. Now Britain and other Nato allies will be under pressure to perform a similar volte-face, and increase their combined troop deployments above the current level of roughly 6,500.
Trump’s repeated assertion that the US would “fight to win” is misleading at best and reckless at worst. Obama almost trebled US combat troop levels to around 100,000 after taking office in 2009, in an all-out attempt to finish the war. It did not work, although Obama claimed it did, and he slashed troop levels accordingly. The history of warfare in Afghanistan suggests nobody ever “wins”.
read more here: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/aug/22/why-trumps-afghan-strategy-risks-the-worst-of-both-worlds