President Donald Trump sometimes makes some head-scratching comments. Casually mentioning a plan to kill 10 million people in Afghanistan definitely ranks as one of them.
Ahead of a Monday meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, Trump told reporters at the White House that he could win the war in Afghanistan in just one week if he really, really wanted to. But Trump says he won’t do that because he doesn’t want millions to die.
“I don’t want to kill 10 million people,” he said. “I have plans on Afghanistan that if I wanted to win that war, Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the earth, it would be gone, it would be over in literally 10 days.”
Yes, you read that right: The US president is saying that he has some secret plan to “win” the war against the Taliban — a war that has lasted nearly 20 years — in just over a week.
Even stranger, Trump said this right as the US and the Taliban are in the middle of months-long peace talks to end the war and bring roughly 14,000 US troops home.
Trump casually says that if he wanted to, "Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the Earth -- it would be over literally in 10 days." pic.twitter.com/YBPQYnueXJ— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) July 22, 2019
After giving it much thought, I still don’t really know what exactly Trump means by all this. But here are some possibilities.
What Trump might mean about his plan to kill millions in Afghanistan
In later remarks, Trump’s musings about possibly annihilating an entire country in Central Asia became slightly clearer.
He discussed how in April 2017, just over three months into his presidency, the US military dropped the “mother of all bombs” on Afghanistan, killing 36 ISIS fighters. It was the largest non-nuclear bomb ever used on the battlefield — a fact Trump helped illustrate Monday by gleefully boasting to reporters about how big a hole it made in the ground and what a loud sound it made when it detonated.
But it appears that Trump doesn’t want a repeat performance. “They were going to make many of them, and I said no,” he said of the bombs. “We don’t have — I don’t want to drop that. I don’t want to do that.”
So maybe Trump is cautious about using the MOAB (as the bomb is known) ever again. But the US military only has around 20 of them, so it’s hard to see how America could kill 10 million — or even 1 million — people with those explosives alone. They’re damaging, sure, but not that damaging.
“We can’t kill 10 million [people] with just MOABs,” an Air Force officer told me.
Which leads to another explanation: Trump doesn’t want to authorize a large-scale bombing campaign on Afghanistan. Perhaps the plan the president is thinking about includes not just dropping MOABs, but tons of other bombs at the US military’s disposal. But even then the casualty count seems extremely high, and it’s hard to believe the US could kill so many people in just 10 days.
It’s therefore possible Trump alluded to an even more terrifying proposal: nuking Afghanistan. Dropping nuclear weapons on the country could potentially reach that high death count in a short amount of time. And while it’s certainly plausible that the US military has such a plan ready to go just in case — after all, the military has a plan for everything, including a zombie apocalypse — it would be nothing less than insane to actually use it.
After all, Afghanistan doesn’t have nukes of its own, the Taliban doesn’t pose an existential threat to the US, and millions of innocent civilians would die. Which means there’s little to no chance this is actually a viable option Trump would reach for.
The most likely explanation for Trump’s comments, then, is that he was just speaking off the cuff in his speech. In other words, he was just being himself.
That makes sense, especially since in the same press conference he mentioned that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked him to personally mediate the decades-long territorial dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir — an assertion India’s government promptly denied.
That doesn’t take away from the fact that Trump still talked about how he could kill millions during an Oval Office meeting. It’s no “fire and fury,” to be sure, but it is disturbing nonetheless.