President Donald Trump entered the White House questioning why the US was still fighting in Afghanistan. Now he’s ramping up America’s longest war.
The US Air Force is currently on pace to triple the amount of bombs dropped in Afghanistan this year as compared to last year, NBC News reports. So far, the US has unleashed 3,554 bombs as of October 31. America dropped 1,337 bombs in all of 2016, and 947 in all of 2015.
The escalation is part of Trump’s renewed focus on defeating the Taliban — the hardline Islamist group whose influence and power is growing in Afghanistan. In February, the Taliban controlled 11 percent of the country’s districts; as of August, it’s in charge of about 13 percent, which means an additional 700,000 people now live under some Taliban rule. Part of the effort to curb the Taliban’s rise includes bombing its estimated 400 to 500 drug labs in Afghanistan, since it makes most of its money in the drug trade.
“There are many, many targets that have been identified,” Gen. John Nicholson, the top US commander in Afghanistan, told reporters yesterday in a reference to the Taliban’s drug operation. “We are striking some, and we will continue to strike these targets as we further refine them.”
But the US isn’t just bombing from above. Trump sent around 3,000 more troops to Afghanistan in September instead of completing the withdrawal former President Barack Obama promised. There are now around 14,000 US troops in Afghanistan, many of which advise and help Afghan forces on the ground by providing artillery and air support. The Afghan military is battling nearly 20 terrorist groups in Afghanistan, including the Taliban, ISIS, and al-Qaeda.
That means that instead of ending the war, Trump is only involving the US further in a conflict with no end in sight.
Trump promised to get out of Afghanistan
On August 21, Trump unveiled his new strategy to stay in Afghanistan based on conditions on the ground, not timetables. That means the US will stay in the country until it’s safe to do so without providing a withdrawal date. That’s effectively a recipe for perennial war, especially as conditions in the country deteriorate.
But for years, Trump had vowed to remove the US from the conflict. “84% of US troops wounded & 70% of our brave men & women killed in Afghanistan have all come under Obama. Time to get out of there,” he wrote on Twitter on September 11, 2012.
In November of 2013, he also tweeted: “We have wasted an enormous amount of blood and treasure in Afghanistan. Their government has zero appreciation. Let's get out!”
During months of deliberation, Trump pushed back on his national security team as it kept recommending steps to continue the war. This led to a fight between National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster — who advocated escalation — and former top adviser Steve Bannon, who wanted the US to get out.
Ultimately, Trump sided with the McMaster view — but he didn’t seem too happy about it. "My original instinct was to pull out, and historically I like following my instincts,” he said, “but all of my life I heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office."
Turns out the decision he made was to get the US more involved in Afghanistan, not less.