The Key To Trump’s Afghan Strategy: A ‘Tougher’ Line On Pakistan

REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

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Saagar Enjeti White House Correspondent
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President Donald Trump’s new strategy for the South Asia region will focus U.S. pressure on the Pakistani government to cease any and all support for the Taliban movement while also likely increasing the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Trump will seek to pare back Taliban gains on the Afghan battlefield and eliminate its sanctuaries in Pakistan with the ultimate goal of forcing the insurgent group to pursue a negotiated settlement with the Afghan government, two senior administration officials explained to reporters in a background briefing call Monday.

Pakistan has long held sway over elements of the Taliban movement and knowingly harbors much of its leadership structure. U.S. military commanders have complained for years that they are unable to target the insurgent group’s command control structure as it racks up victory after victory against the U.S.-backed Afghan National Security Forces.

The Taliban now controls approximately 40 percent of the entire country of Afghanistan and one-third of the population. Afghan civilian casualties are also at a 16-year high in the war as a result of Taliban improvised explosive devices. Trump emphasized in his speech that his strategy will be based on “conditions” not a “time-based approach” like that former President Barack Obama pursued.

“We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond.  Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with our effort in Afghanistan.  It has much to lose by continuing to harbor terrorists,” Trump declared in his Monday night address.

The new strategy will be a “substantially tougher approach to Pakistan than you’ve seen from the United States, and probably since shortly after the 9/11 attacks,” a senior administration official explained.

Trump admitted that “Pakistan has been a valued partner” in the past but noted that it “has also sheltered the same organizations that try every single day to kill our people.” Trump was unclear about what specific actions the U.S. will take against Pakistan if it does not cooperate. “We will use persuasion, sometimes coercion, and sometimes disruption to protect our interests,” a senior administration official clarified.

The administration’s “tougher” approach is likely to manifest in the withholding of annual U.S. aid dollars, possible sanctions against the country, and increased diplomatic pressure.

“We look to Pakistan to take decisive action against militant groups based in Pakistan that are a threat to the region. It is vital to U.S. interests that Afghanistan and Pakistan prevent terrorist sanctuaries,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Monday night, echoing Trump’s remarks.

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