In this occasional series, we will bring you up to speed on the biggest national security stories of the week.
President Trump outlined his strategy for the war in Afghanistan Monday night during a speech at Fort Myer in Arlington, Va. The new direction would likely call for an increase of thousands of troops to assist and train Afghan forces. Trump also emphasized he would step away from “nation building.” The administration also plans to put more pressure on Pakistan to eradicate safe havens for terrorists, and the president indicated that India would assist in economic and development support.
Ending the 16-year conflict has eluded former presidents, and Trump has made it no secret that he considers the war too costly. He said his first instinct when considering what to do was to pull out. The war for some time has been described by numerous analysts as a stalemate with the Taliban continuing to grow stronger while rampant corruption continues to plague the Afghan government, hampering U.S. military initiatives.
Many experts and veterans contend that Trump’s plans for the country remain much like those of his predecessor, former president Barack Obama: Strengthen the Afghan government forces on the battlefield in hopes a bloodied Taliban will come to the negotiating table to negotiate a political solution.
Here’s what you need to know about the longest conflict in U.S. history:
Soldiers are still deployed to the region — and still dying.
About 8,500 U.S. troops have remained in Afghanistan since Obama officially ended the combat mission there. There are also NATO troops that work with the U.S. military to train, advise and assist Afghan security forces, as well as U.S. Special Operations forces on a separate counterterrorism mission targeting al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. If more troops deploy to the region, they would likely continue to help the Afghan military fight a resurgent Taliban with more air support and other resources.
Eleven U.S. service members have been killed this year — three of whom died in June when an Afghan soldier opened fire on American troops battling the Islamic State in Nangahar province. The most recent death occurred last week when Staff Sgt. Aaron R. Butler, 27, was killed by an improvised explosive device.
The U.S. has spent billions of dollars fighting the war.
More than $700 billion has been spent to fund reconstruction and war efforts in Afghanistan, and the troop increase will likely add billions of dollars more to the cost of the conflict. Military strategists predict direct U.S. spending could balloon up to $840 billion. Those costs also include spending on the treatment of veterans’ medical and disability needs.
In some instances, the money American taxpayers contributed has been squandered. One infamous example includes a $6 million program designed to breed Italian and Afghan goats for better cashmere to improve the yield. The experiment failed when many of the goats became sick and died.
“I’m not sure flying Italian goats into Afghanistan was exactly what the founders had in mind when they created a standing army for the United States,” said John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction.
Corruption in Afghanistan is a major obstacle.
Corruption remains a widespread problem in both the Afghan government and its armed forces. In March, more than 1,000 Afghan army service members were fired following corruption charges. A prominent Afghan general who was in charge of the restive Helmand province — a region where U.S. and Afghan soldiers have experienced some of the deadliest fighting — is also on trial on embezzlement and corruption charges.
President Ashraf Ghani and his attorney general have launched a campaign to target senior officials in an effort to boost public confidence in the government, but the president also has to address widespread joblessness and anxiety about security of the country.
The Islamic State and the Taliban continue to launch major terrorist attacks.
The Taliban has recently been responsible for some of the country’s deadliest attacks in years. More than 140 Afghan soldiers were killed or wounded in April when a group of insurgents dressed in army uniforms stormed a heavily fortified base, detonating suicide vests and throwing grenades. The assault rattled the country, which was already reeling from an Islamic State attack that killed dozens in one of the country’s largest military hospitals. The attacks were major blows to the U.S. war effort to help the Afghan army become self-sustaining.