The war in Afghanistan is 16 years and counting, but the strategy hasn't drastically changed post-Bush era.
Back in August, President Donald Trump gave his first major speech addressing the Afghanistan War. While he wasn't detailed on how the strategy would be carried out, he offered insight on the overall mission.
Defense Secretary James Mattis received the go-ahead from the Oval Office to add a few more thousand troops to the 11,000 uniformed Americans already overseas in support of Afghanistan's 180,000 security force. During the speech, Trump admitted, "My original instinct was to pull out," but, he added, "a hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum that terrorists...would instantly fill."
Instead, Trump vowed to "defeat" and "win" against the Taliban as it regains territory and the Islamic State rises as a threat. The goals behind the American presence overseas haven't changed since the 9/11 attacks: prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a terrorist sanctuary from which the U.S. can be attacked the way it was nearly two decades ago.
President Barack Obama was also once left to step-up to the plate to find a way to finish what President George W. Bush had started. While Obama was successful in reducing the number of troops in Afghanistan from a peak of which was once 100,000 to less than 10,000, like with Trump, strategies to win the war were never pinpointed.
Instead, the ongoing fight to keep Taliban fighters from overpowering the Afghan government continued on its regular course.
Under President Trump, counter-terrorism strikes will continue against terrorism hideouts and the president will continue to work with the Afghan government to fight corruption and carry out reform plans.
Trump also vowed to place more pressure on neighboring Pakistan to force reduction of cross-border havens for the Taliban. Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader who masterminded the 9/11 attacks, was killed in 2011 by U.S. commandos who raided his compound in Pakistan. There were questions on whether or not the Pakistan government was harboring bin Laden.
U.S. officials say the Pakistan government has been linked to the Taliban and other terror groups. Obama had also worked to target the Pakistani network, but Trump recently called the South Asian country out.
In January 2018, the Trump administration announced it was suspending security assistance to Pakistan, including $255 million in military aid this year. The money is part of funding given to the Pakistan government to fight terrorism, but in a tweet last month, Trump said Pakistan’s government has played the U.S. for “fools” and received nothing but “lies & deceit” in return for $33 billion in aid over the last 15 years.
Trump also mentioned in his Afghanistan strategy speech that a strategic partnership would be developed with India in order to come up with more economic development money for Afghanistan. This move is a build-on from Obama-era efforts.
President Trump failed to provide actual details on how this partnership would look and also offered no specifics on how many more troops would be sent to support the military on Afghanistan grounds.
"We will not talk about numbers of our troops or our plans for further military activities," Trump said in the speech. "Conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables, will guide our strategy from now on."
In this way, Trump's Afghanistan strategy is significantly different from Obama's. During his second term, Obama announced plans to withdraw the last American troops from Afghanistan by 2016. He later reversed that call and extended the troops' stay until the end of his presidency in 2017. Obama provided a timeline of withdrawal, unlike the Trump administration. Analysts say providing a timeline gives hope to the Taliban and any other countries hoping to move in, such as Russia and Iran.
The decision to keep timelines hushed from the public is the main factor that separates Trump's policy from Obama's, but overall, there is no vision on how the war will be won.
What is clear is, there will be no withdrawal. At least not any time soon.