Trump changes mind on troops in Afghanistan

Fight on: The War in Afghanistan has lasted 16 years — twice the length of the Vietnam War.

Donald Trump has outlined his much-delayed strategy for the future of America’s longest war. His decision to boost troop numbers goes against his personal philosophy. Is it the right move?

Donald Trump has returned from his “working holiday” with a bang.

In a prime-time address to the nation last night, the president announced that more US troops will be sent to Afghanistan, joining the 10,000 or so already there. He did not say how many, or how long the USA would stay in the country, as he is moving from a “time-based approach to one based on conditions.” But he was confident: “In the end, we will win.”

The surge is a shift away from Barack Obama’s policy of gradually reducing troop numbers (from a peak of 100,000 in 2010).

It is also a U-turn for Trump, who had repeatedly called for the USA to leave Afghanistan altogether. But, as he admitted, “Decisions are much different when you sit at the desk in the Oval Office.” It is a victory for his hawkish advisers, such as the defence secretary, James Mattis.

And it marks another dramatic twist in the USA’s longest ever conflict.

The war in Afghanistan began shortly after 9/11. The Bush administration’s aim was to topple the Taliban, the ultra-conservative Muslim group that ruled the country, providing shelter to 9/11’s architect Osama bin Laden. It swiftly succeeded.

But as the US-led NATO troops stuck around to destroy the Taliban and build a richer, more democratic Afghanistan, things got tricky. The government they installed was hugely corrupt. Afghan citizens resented their presence. Over time, the Taliban recovered and fought back, not least through suicide bombings. Military costs and casualties multiplied.

NATO officially declared an end to combat in 2014, but the Americans left behind personnel to train the Afghan army. They face a country as violent and divided as ever: according to the UN, the Taliban now controls more territory than it did in 2001. Pakistan, supposedly an ally of the West, stands accused of helping the group.

“We are not winning in Afghanistan right now,” Mattis recently said. Has Trump found the solution?

Afghanistan First?

No way, say some. If 100,000 American soldiers under Obama were unable to win this war, sending more now will make no difference. This will only drag out an impossible situation, leading to higher costs and more bloodshed. Trump should have listened to his heart and pulled his troops out of Afghanistan altogether.

That would be suicidal, reply others. Without US support, the Afghan state would collapse and be overrun by jihadists. Trump would be aiding the sort of terrorism he promised to crush. This war can only end with a diplomatic agreement that involves the Taliban. Until then, the USA must do what it takes to keep the country afloat.

You Decide

  1. Would you consider joining the military?
  2. Does this decision mark the end of Trump’s “America First” approach?


  1. Class debate: “This house believes that the USA’s intervention in Afghanistan was worthwhile.”
  2. Copy out the timeline of the war above, adding 10 more significant events. The Encyclopaedia Britannica’s article in Become An Expert may help.

Some People Say...

“Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires.”

Well-known saying

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The war has come at a high price. It is estimated to have cost the USA over $1 trillion. $117 billion of that has gone toward reconstruction — more than the USA spent on rebuilding 16 nations after the second world war. Over 3,000 NATO troops have died in the country, plus countless Afghans: 1,662 civilians lost their lives in the first half of this year alone.
What do we not know?
How this war will end. A common criticism is that the USA has no viable long-term strategy. Experts tend to agree that any solution to the conflict must involve the Taliban, which has been holding on-off peace talks with the Afghan government. But many in the Taliban oppose these talks, which have come to nothing so far. Meanwhile, the group continues its suicide bombing campaign in the country.

Word Watch

10,000 or so
At any time, there are up to 8,400 staff on hand to train the Afghan army. Around 2,000 “temporary” troops are also involved in fighting militant groups like the Taliban.
A large deployment of troops to a conflict zone.
Leave Afghanistan
In 2013, Trump tweeted that “very stupid leaders” were preventing the USA from pulling out of the country.
James Mattis
In his former career as a marine, the defence secretary led a task force into southern Afghanistan. He once said: “You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil … So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot [those guys].”
North Atlantic Treaty Organization, an alliance of 29 European and North American countries which cooperate in political and military matters.
Helping the group
There is strong evidence that much of the Taliban leadership is based in Pakistan. How or why the country assists the Taliban is less clear. Many argue, for example, that Pakistan sees the group as a counterweight to its enemy India.
Involves the Taliban
See Q&A.


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