International desk – Deviating from his election campaign stance, President Donald Trump said a hasty US withdrawal from Afghanistan would leave a vacuum for terrorists to fill.
In a televised address to the nation on Tuesday, the president said his original instinct was to pull US forces out, but had instead decided to stay and “fight to win” to avoid the mistakes made in Iraq.
He said he wanted to shift from a time-based approach in Afghanistan to one based on conditions on the ground.
But he would not set deadlines.
However, the US president warned it was not a “blank cheque” for Afghanistan.
“America will work with the Afghan government, so long as we see commitment and progress,” he said.
Hours after the Trump’s statement, the Taliban responded by saying that Afghanistan would become “another graveyard” for the US if it did not withdraw its troops.
President Trump has committed to stepping up the US military’s engagement in Afghanistan, but details were few and far between.
Trump said his new approach would be more pragmatic than idealistic, and would switch from nation building to “killing terrorists”.
But he refused to get drawn on how many extra troops, if any, would be deployed and gave no timeline for ending the US presence in the country.
Washington is expected to send up to 4,000 additional troops, but Trump did not comment on this.
The president did, however, put pressure on neighbouring Pakistan, warning that the US would no longer tolerate it offering “safe havens” to extremists – an accusation swiftly dismissed by a Pakistani army spokesman.
The president also, for the first time, left the door open for an eventual peace deal with the Taliban, saying: “Someday, after an effective military effort, perhaps it will be possible to have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan.”
However, Trump said there would be an escalation in the battle against groups like al-Qaeda and so-called Islamic State, according to a BBC report.
“[They] need to know they have nowhere to hide – that no place is beyond the reach of American arms,” he said.
Trump made it clear he expects his existing allies – singling out India – to support him in his new strategy, and urged them to raise their countries’ contributions “in line with our own”.
Early on in his presidential campaign, however, he did acknowledge that US troops would have to stay in order to avoid the total collapse of the Afghan government.
And this long-awaited announcement came after a months-long review, with the president himself acknowledging that his original instinct to pull-out had been reversed after discussions with national security advisers.
In November, the then presidential candidate twitted, “We have wasted an enourmopus amount of blood and treasure in Afghanistan. Thir government has zero appreciation. Let’s get out!”