Trump caves to Pakistan on Afghanistan

During a meeting today with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, President Donald Trump said that the US is working closely with Pakistan “to extricate ourselves” from Afghanistan. Trump’s acquiescence to Pakistan, which has backed the Taliban’s deadly insurgency in Afghanistan, occurs less than two years after he accused Pakistan of providing “safe haven to agents of chaos, violence, and terror” and said Pakistan returned billions of dollars in US aid with “nothing but lies & deceit.”

While the reporting on today’s meeting between Trump and Khan focused on Trump’s not-so-veiled-threat to lay waste to Afghanistan as an option to defeat the Taliban, the real story is that he has let Pakistan off the hook for its support of the Taliban.

“So we’re working with Pakistan and others to extricate ourselves – nor do we want to be policemen, because basically we’re policemen right now. And we’re not supposed to be policemen,” Trump said during his meeting with Khan today, Task & Purpose reported.

“We’ve been there for 19 years in Afghanistan. It’s ridiculous. And I think Pakistan helps us with that because we don’t want to stay as policemen,” Trump continued.

Trump’s comments are dramatically different than his belligerent stand which he took in his Aug. 2017 speech and a later tweet in Jan. 2018.

In the Aug. 2017 speech, Trump noted that “20 US-designated foreign terrorist organizations” are currently active in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and said that Pakistan “often gives safe haven to agents of chaos, violence, and terror.”

“We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond,” Trump continued.

He attacked Pakistan for “housing the very terrorists that we are fighting” and harboring “militants and terrorists who target U.S. service members and officials,” even as the Pakistani government received American aid.

A little over four months later, in a famous tweet on New Year’s Day 2018, Trump lashed out at Pakistan for its “lies & deceit.”

“The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!,” Trump proclaimed.

Eighteen months later, Trump is fêting Pakistan’s prime minister in Washington, DC and treating the country as a partner that can be trusted to help end the war in Afghanistan.

Trump is commending Pakistan despite the most recent Country Reports on Terrorism, which notes that Pakistan continues to provide safe haven and support for the Taliban and the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network. The Haqqani Network is a powerful faction that is an integral part of the Taliban; its leader serves as one of two deputy Taliban emirs as well as its military commander.

“The Pakistani government pledged support to political reconciliation between the Afghan government and the Afghan Taliban but did not restrict the Afghan Taliban and HQN [Haqqani Network] from operating in Pakistan-based safe havens and threatening U.S. and Afghan forces in Afghanistan,” the report noted.

Trump has signaled that he seeks to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan to put an end to the “endless war” during his 2019 State of the Union address, and has made additional comments about his desire to leave several times since. It appears as though Trump is willing to deal with Pakistan, which he accused of perfidy just 18 months ago, to accomplish this goal.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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