National Security & Defense

Five Questions for Trump on Afghanistan

President Trump announces his Afghanistan policy at Fort Myer, Va., August 12, 2017. (Reuters photo: Joshua Roberts)
Congress must press him to fill in the details of his plan.

On Monday, President Donald Trump finally explained to the American people why an expansion of U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan is necessary to defend our national-security interests. Now that President Trump has become the third consecutive commander-in-chief to increase America’s commitment in Afghanistan, it’s time for lawmakers from both political parties and in both houses of Congress to press the administration for the details.

Trump’s address to the nation on the course of the Afghan campaign was long on aspiration but short on actual policy. The American people — and most importantly, the men and women of the armed forces who will be ordered into a combat environment — deserve a full, detailed, and comprehensive explanation of what Trump has in mind. Here are five questions that members of Congress should send to the administration.

1.What does winning look like?

This is the most essential question that Congress must ask. President Trump used the words “win” and “victory” on a number of occasions throughout his speech, but he failed to clearly define those words. It is dangerous for any country, let alone a superpower that has already sacrificed more than 2,400 soldiers and spent more than $700 billion, to deepen its involvement in an armed conflict without some idea of what the objectives are and when the mission can be declared over. 

2. How many troops will be sent?

Trump refused to disclose publicly how small or large the troop surge will be, saying that “we will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities.” There may be some logic to keeping the enemy in the dark, but America’s elected officials have a responsibility to comprehend just how many of their constituents will be deployed to a war. As an independent and co-equal branch of government with primary oversight responsibility in the U.S. Constitution, it would be a dereliction if Congress failed to ask this most obvious of questions.

3.What conditions are placed on the Afghan government?

Trump is correct that American military and financial assistance to the Afghan government will continue to fail without substantial reform. What he didn’t explain, however, is what those reforms should look like or what conditions Washington expects Kabul to meet.

It’s smart for the U.S. to condition its warfighting aid on the host nation’s willingness to get its own house in order, especially in a place like Afghanistan, where corruption is embedded within the political system. But the conditions need to be spelled out both to the Afghan government and to American personnel in country if the scheme has any chance of working. With a war that is already the longest in America’s history, it is only fair for Afghanistan and its troops to be given some clear benchmarks to meet, and to be held accountable for meeting them.

4. How much will it cost?

According to the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, the U.S. has spent $714 billion on warfighting and reconstruction in Afghanistan since fiscal year 2002. Congress appropriated more than $4 billion to the Afghan national-security forces for 2017 alone, a price tag that will presumably go up now that the administration has settled on a new strategy that will require more American trainers over a longer period of time. Americans ought to know how many more of their taxpayer dollars will be diverted to this cause.

As the appropriators of the people’s money, the Armed Services, Budget, and Appropriations Committees must force administration officials to come up with a number. This war is has been paid by credit card for far too long, with the bill contributing to an immoral $20 trillion national debt.

5. What will our NATO allies chip in?

Members of Congress must hold the administration accountable to its new plan.

“We will ask our NATO allies and global partners to support our new strategy with additional troop and funding increases in line with our own,” Trump declared. How many troops NATO will send and how large a check it will cut, however, are a mystery. Operation Resolute Support is indeed a NATO mission, even if the U.S. is on the hook for most of the manpower. Yet if Washington is being asked to step up, America’s European allies also have a responsibility to step up. The plan that Trump outlined on Monday is as much NATO’s as it is America’s. The administration is confident that NATO will rise to the occasion; Congress should hold the administration to it.

Trump’s decision to prolong and expand the war in Afghanistan goes against the realistic foreign-policy promises that got him elected. At the very least, members of Congress must hold the administration accountable to its new plan.

READ MORE:

NR Editorial: Trump’s Afghan Escalation

President Trump Decided Not to Lose the War

The Afghan War Is America’s Most Democratic Conflict

Daniel DePetris is a fellow at Defense Priorities.

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