As the new year begins, the US continues to press forward on its Afghanistan policy.
When the administration announced its new Afghanistan policy last August, it promised that the war in Afghanistan would be different during Trump’s presidency. There would be no time limits on troop presence in the country, and as VP Mike Pence recently related to troops on the ground, complete victory would be the finalizing factor for America’s involvement in the country.
Indeed there have been some important developments resulting from Trump’s Afghanistan strategy. The military focused strongly on the Taliban’s financial foundations by bombing its opium facilities, a tactic not undertaken in previous years. The Pentagon took the gloves off by completely revamping the rules of engagement for American troops. Unlike in earlier years where soldiers were only allowed to engage enemy combatants within a certain range (yes, really), now they are allowed to pursue Taliban and other militants with few restrictions.
As the new troop influx to the country approaches its fifth month, with the heaviness of the Afghan Winter looming near, there are two goals on the agenda for the American top brass in the country.
First, is putting as much pressure as possible on Taliban forces during the winter season, a period typically void of heavy fighting due to weather conditions in the country. Despite these weather conditions, the US plans to seek out vital enemy targets throughout the coming months. As General Lance Bunch, one of the top American officers in Afghanistan stated in a recent Defense Department briefing, “We are able to go after their [Taliban] weapons cache sites, their revenue generation, their C2 [command and control] nodes, all the areas where they thought they were safe and they are no longer so.”
These new options for targeting the enemy are the result of additional authorities granted by Trump to military in the country under his new strategy. As Bunch explained, “It has definitely been a game-changer, and the Taliban is definitely feeling it.”
The second important move will be to take the upcoming lull in fighting as an opportunity to bolster the Afghan military and border security apparatus. This has always been an important part of the strategy in Afghanistan, even for earlier administrations, and it seems that this administration may be willing to freely provide the resources necessary to carry it out.
Recently, the Defense Department announced that the military would induct more advisers into the Afghan armed forces in the coming months. With his signature blunt realism, Defense Secretary James Mattis told news sources that an investment is required “to put together an army that’s going to try to restore some degree of normalcy and protect people.”
Mattis explained that this influx of advisers will differ from earlier deployments. Americans will now be paired with more units of the Afghan army, units that in the past have not been given the opportunity to work with them. As Mattis explained, these advisors will work closely with “the regular forces, the ones that have not had mentors before.”
The collective indication of many reports coming from Afghanistan recently, from the bombing of opium plants to the paring of Afghan military with American mentors, is a sign that a real paradigm shift may be occurring in the country. As General Bunch summed it up in his Pentagon briefing, “these [strategies] are new, the war has changed.”
While it may be shocking for the average reader to discover that many of these tactics have not been implemented by the US up until this point, it is equally refreshing to discover that policymakers and war planners may finally be getting serious with achieving victory in Afghanistan.