Talking heads will say that it is impossible to penetrate Afghanistan. To their credit, from Alexander the Great’s Macedon to the Soviet Union, many empires have found Afghanistan to be their final resting place. However, these fears lie in a different definition of success than the one that President Donald Trump presented at Fort Myer late last month. The administration’s revised strategy is one of significant merit and adherence to the advice of our military officials. This is a vital pivot from the historical top-down approach of past interventions.
As opposed to previous administrations, the White House will increase operational flexibility by granting generals more say in the matter of strategy and tactics, something they previously lacked due to the strict nature of past U.S. top-down approaches. The Trump administration has made it clear that the resources for these efforts will be allocated on an as-needed basis, untangling the U.S. military of previous restrictions, like the ones faced by many generals under the Bush administration.
It is well understood that the overly restrictive rules of engagement during previous operations not only increased casualties, but also delayed operational advances. Although fostering civilian respect in-country remains vital to any approach, restrictive rules of engagement significantly benefit U.S. adversaries by granting them increased freedom of movement and authority within the battlespace.
The new U.S. strategy shifts focus away from the “hearts and minds” approach held during the greater part of the War on Terror. Secretary of Defense James Mattis’ approved request for a loosening on the rules of engagement will now enable the conduction of warfare on a level not seen before. Terrorist elements will be destroyed without delay, allowing the United States to flex its military superiority without reasonable constraint.
Moreover, by scraping arbitrary timetables and prosecuting the war through a condition-based approach, not only will U.S. strategy be more malleable, but it will also be cloaked away from the eyes of enemies. No longer will the United States expose operational particulars, such as operational start dates and troop surges. The only certainty that adversaries will have is that the United States will attack. Overall, this demonstrates a new focus on cohesiveness between civilian and military elements of operations. This significantly reinvigorates hopes of operational success.
Most importantly, the Trump administration has directed focus toward Pakistan and its involvement in harboring, as well as exporting, terrorist cells into Afghanistan. It cannot be understated what role Pakistan has played in the Taliban-infiltration of the Afghan government. Up until the events of 9/11, Pakistan fought and trained with Taliban forces, sending upward of 90,000 troops to the region. Without the initial heavy support provided by Pakistan, it is unlikely that the Taliban would have been able to overthrow the status quo regime with such unparalleled speed. The government hides behind the guise of an ally of the United States, but continues to supply terrorist elements indirectly through the protection of Taliban weapon production in the Khyber Pass and directly through undisclosed aid. Finally, the United States has chosen to stand up against Pakistani subversion, with the administration suggesting economic and diplomatic options to cut the blood flow to the Taliban.
A refreshed narrative on Afghanistan should constrain the legitimacy of the isolationist opinion. Regardless of the other qualms with the Trump administration, this foreign policy announcement is a breath of fresh air into the debate on global terror. Fortunately, instead of divisive political talking points, the administration has chosen to attack a major world issue head on.