WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump on Tuesday ruled out a hasty withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan to end America’s longest war, as he warned Pakistan of consequences for providing safe havens to “terrorists”.
Trump, in his first prime-time televised address to the nation as commander-in-chief, laid out his South Asia policy saying a “critical part” of it was to further develop US’ strategic partnership with India.
He said after a “comprehensive review”, it was decided that the American strategy in Afghanistan and South Asia will change dramatically.
Trump said his instinct was to pull out of Afghanistan but following months of discussion, he concluded that “the consequences of a rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable” and would leave a vacuum that “terrorists” would instantly fill.
“We will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities,” Trump said in his 26-minute speech as he announced his South Asia policy in front of about 2,000 people from all five services and top officials of his administration.
Trump said he has arrived at three fundamental conclusions about America’s core interests in Afghanistan.
“Our nation must seek an honourable and enduring outcome worthy of the tremendous sacrifices that have been made,” Trump said.
“Second, the consequences of a rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable…A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum that terrorists — including ISIS and al-Qaeda – would instantly fill, just as happened before September Eleventh,” he said.
Trump’s rejection of a rapid withdrawal from Afghanistan was being seen as backtracking from his promise to swiftly end America’s 16-year-old war in Afghanistan. Trump said the next pillar of his new strategy is a change in America’s approach to Pakistan.
Trump slammed Pakistan for its continued support to “terrorist” groups and warned Islamabad of consequences if it continues to do so.
“We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organisations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond,” Trump said.
“Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with our effort in Afghanistan. It has much to lose by continuing to harbour terrorists,” he said.
Trump also noted that the threat is worse because Pakistan and India are two nuclear-armed states whose tense relations threaten to spiral into a conflict.
“In the past, Pakistan has been a valued partner. Our militaries have worked together against common enemies. The Pakistani people have suffered greatly from terrorism and extremism. We recognise those contributions and those sacrifices,” Trump said.
“But Pakistan has also sheltered the same organisations that try every single day to kill our people,” he added.
Trump noted that the US has been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars but it continues to house the very “terrorists” that America is fighting.
“But that will have to change. That will change immediately. No partnership can survive a country’s harbouring of militants and terrorists who target US service members and officials. It is time for Pakistan to demonstrate its commitment to civilisation, order, and to peace,” Trump said. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also urged Pakistan to take decisive action against “terror” groups.
“Pakistan has suffered greatly from terrorism and can be an important partner in our shared goals of peace and stability in the region,” he said.
“We look to Pakistan to take decisive action against militant groups based in Pakistan that are a threat to the region. It is vital to US interests that Afghanistan and Pakistan prevent terrorist sanctuaries,” Tillerson said.
Top Trump administration officials were present as the US President delivered his address to the nation.
Trump asserted that American troops will fight to win. “From now on, victory will have a clear definition: attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing al-Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over the country, and stopping mass terror attacks against Americans before they emerge,” he said.
Trump noted that the stronger the Afghan security forces become, the less the US will have to do. Afghans will secure and build their own nation, and define their own future and the US wants them to succeed, he said.