The Trump administration's South Asia strategy has passed its one year mark, the Defense Department's inspector general said in a news release Monday. The evidence suggests US President Donald Trump's strategy has next to nothing going for it in terms of results, according to the assessment of the military, political and humanitarian dimensions of the situation in Afghanistan.
The Trump administration's strategy to push the Taliban closer to peace talks consists of four main programs. The US has increased its troop presence in Afghanistan to 14,000 while shuttling in more equipment. Airstrikes against Taliban narcotics facilities and personnel have gone up. Afghan national defense forces are receiving more training from US military advisors. And the US government has drastically cut its foreign aid to Pakistan in hopes of persuading the country to stop providing safe haven for Taliban forces.
"Despite continued efforts and activities, there was little clear progress toward reconciliation during the quarter," the Defense Department inspector general's office said. "Progress remains elusive."
Record-setting violence plagued Afghanistan's October parliamentary elections, Sputnik reported. US Army Major Danny Sjursen told Fault Lines on Radio Sputnik in an interview after the elections that "one of the reasons there was so much violence in this election is that something like 44 percent of all Afghan districts are under the control of the Taliban, or are at least being contested by the Taliban." (He spoke freely on the condition that his statements not be construed to reflect views of the Defense Department or the US government.)
"So, that'd be as if there was a civil war going on in the United States today, and you had to find your ways to the polls through the middle of opposing landmines in a war," said Sjursen, who has previously been deployed to Afghanistan.
US diplomats have nonetheless offered reassuring statements about Afghanistan. The Trump administration's strategy is "indeed working," US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during a visit to Kabul in July. "Now more than ever, the United States stands as an enduring partner for Afghanistan," the American diplomat said.
Pompeo offered his definition of America's progress in Afghanistan as "the capacity that we now have to believe that there is hope that many of the Taliban now see that they can't win on the ground militarily."
Military officials have also remained optimistic about Trump's South Asia policy, yet their positivity has been tempered by skepticism of how well the strategy is working. On Saturday, Gen. Joe Dunford, US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the audience at the Halifax International Security Forum that progress on peace talks with the Taliban was being made "below the surface." Still, Dunford said, "We're a long way from where we could say we're on the right path."
Pointing to previous comments made by US military officials one year ago that the war against the Taliban was at a stalemate, Dunford told the audience that "it hasn't changed much," according to an AP report.
The Pentagon inspector general said in its report that despite the upbeat public statements from American diplomats and military leaders, "available measures of security in Afghanistan, including total security incidents, population control and civilian casualties, showed little change."
In short, the first year of the Trump administration's South Asia strategy resulted in a continuation of the status quo characterized by violence and instability in Afghanistan. Trump's "instinct" was to draw down the US' military presence in Afghanistan, eventually leaving altogether. Instead, he followed along with what national security advisors insisted was the best way forward, according to Major Sjursen.
"I do think people in his national security circles, including [then-National Security Advisor] H.R. McMaster, were very much tied to the status quo. And the ‘status quo' was the Forever War in Afghanistan. A few more troops, a few more billion dollars, a few more advisors, and we can make things happen. These guys have spent their entire adult lives — the second half of their entire adult lives — trying to win this fight and banging their head against the wall over and over," said Sjursen.