Just after President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of 2,000 troops from Syria, the White House is now considering plans to pull 7,000 troops from Afghanistan, nearly half the total number currently deployed to the country in the 17-year-long conflict.
Trump has long been skeptical of military involvement abroad, Afghanistan included. He campaigned on removing US troops from the region but faced objections from his Cabinet and advisers once in office. In 2017, Trump deployed an additional 3,000 troops, bringing the total up to about 14,000. This signaled a continuation of, rather than a break from, US policy.
Now, Trump may dramatically draw down US involvement, though many in his administration are, once again, warning it could make the situation on the ground in Afghanistan even more precarious. This time around, though, Trump seems to have overruled their objections.
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis reportedly opposed the move. And this decision, combined with Trump’s rash action on Syria, apparently pushed the retired four-star general to finally break with the president and submit his resignation late Thursday.
Afghanistan is the US’s longest-running conflict, with more than 2,400 Americans killed in nearly two decades, not to mention the roughly 31,000 Afghan civilians who have died in the war. The quagmire has deepened of late, with the Taliban continuing to wage attacks on Afghan and allied troops. The group has stubbornly resisted any attempts to beat it back, and instead has managed to increase control.
The timing of this is also odd: The US is currently attempting to broker talks between the Afghan government, which the US backs, and the Taliban. The Taliban has long wanted the US to leave Afghanistan before any peace talks, and the group may consider this a victory ahead of any potential discussions.
Trump has not tweeted about his Afghanistan decision, so, at least as of right now, it’s not final. NBC News reports that Trump asked the Pentagon to come up with plans for a partial withdrawal and is still weighing his options; however, other reports suggest that Trump’s mind is all but made up.
The strategic issues surrounding involvement in Afghanistan and Syria are vastly different, and fatigue with intervention in Afghanistan has grown stronger, with many now willing to admit the US has all but lost.
But the larger issue right now doesn’t seem to be whether Trump’s decisions are the right or wrong ones, but rather how he’s going about making them.
By all accounts, members of Trump’s own administration were blindsided by his decision to leave Syria, as were allies and coalition partners also fighting ISIS.
Afghan officials told the New York Times that “they had received no indication in recent days that the Americans would pull troops.” That lack of communication and coordination with US partners is what Mattis objected to in his resignation letter, as it turns America into an unreliable — and unpredictable — partner.