Trump’s first at-bat in the per­ma­nent war

The pres­i­dent must ex­plain what his goals are in Afghanistan and how they will re­sult in a suc­cess­ful end

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - By Jed Bab­bin Jed Bab­bin served as a deputy un­der­sec­re­tary of de­fense in the Ge­orge H.W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion. He is a se­nior fel­low of the Lon­don Cen­ter for Pol­icy Re­search and the au­thor of five books in­clud­ing “In the Words of Our En­e­mies.”

Pres­i­dent Trump, in his first at-bat as com­man­der in chief, is de­vel­op­ing and un­fold­ing his war plans at the same time. The small steps he’s tak­ing are ap­pro­pri­ate for a pres­i­dent learn­ing the role of mil­i­tary com­man­der. But he is in dan­ger of ne­glect­ing his es­sen­tial role in gain­ing sup­port for his plans. Dur­ing the cam­paign, Mr. Trump promised to “ut­terly de­stroy ISIS.” He never set a goal for the 16-year war against the Tal­iban in Afghanistan. Rus­sian in­ter­ven­tion in Syria, Afghanistan and Libya is in­tended to thwart our ob­jec­tives in all of those places. It’s im­pos­si­ble to ig­nore the pres­ence of Ira­nian Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard troops in Syria.

There are about 900 U.S. troops in Syria in­clud­ing a Marine ar­tillery unit de­ployed last month. An­other 400 are on the way and yet an­other 1,000 are re­port­edly off­shore ready to de­ploy. They don’t have much swing­ing room.

Amer­i­can, Rus­sian, Syr­ian, Ira­nian, Syr­ian rebel, Kur­dish and Turk­ish forces in Syria op­er­ate with con­flict­ing ob­jec­tives. Rus­sian, Syr­ian, Ira­nian forces fight only to main­tain Bashar As­sad’s regime, not bat­tle ISIS. Their op­po­nent is the Syr­ian rebel force we sup­port. Rus­sia, having es­tab­lished per­ma­nent strate­gic bases in Syria (the Tar­tus naval base and the Hmeimim air­base), is tight­en­ing its grasp in the Mid­dle East. Turk­ish forces, having es­tab­lished con­trol of a north­ern cor­ner of Syria, have stopped ad­vanc­ing.

U.S. Air Force and Navy air­craft are op­er­at­ing in Syria as well. Their op­er­a­tions are com­pli­cated by having to “de-con­flict” their flights so that they don’t lit­er­ally run into Syr­ian, Rus­sian (and prob­a­bly Ira­nian) air­craft at­tack­ing the rebels. This isn’t the equiv­a­lent of a “no-fly” zone en­forced against us, but Rus­sian con­trol over big chunks of Syr­ian airspace is un­de­ni­able.

It’s not at all clear how Mr. Trump can de­feat ISIS in Syria un­less he also de­feats them in Iraq and Libya where they are also very strong. Rus­sia is in­ter­fer­ing in Libya by back­ing a Libyan gen­eral who op­poses the weak Libyan gov­ern­ment.

ISIS leader Abu bakr al-Bagh­dadi is re­port­edly in the city of Mo­sul, which Iraqi troops are try­ing to seize. Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Haider al-Abadi pre­dicted about 10 days ago that ISIS would be de­feated in a mat­ter of weeks. Mr. Trump has or­dered two com­pa­nies of U.S. troops to Mo­sul to “ad­vise and as­sist” Iraqi forces in their fight to take the city from ISIS. We have learned, in 14 years of war in Iraq, not to put too much faith in Iraqi pre­dic­tions or forces. The same is true for the Afghani forces and the Kabul gov­ern­ment.

Pres­i­dent Obama was con­tent with the cur­rent stale­mate in Afghanistan, seek­ing only to avoid the blame for los­ing that part of the war. In 2014, U.S. and NATO troops were with­drawn from Afghanistan’s Hel­mand prov­ince. To ab­so­lutely no one’s sur­prise, the Tal­iban re­took Hel­mand very quickly. About two weeks be­fore Pres­i­dent Trump was in­au­gu­rated, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced that 300 Marines were be­ing de­ployed to Hel­mand to “train and ad­vise” Afghani forces to help them re­take the prov­ince from the Tal­iban.

There are about 8,400 U.S. troops in Afghanistan among a to­tal 13,300 NATO troops there. In Fe­bru­ary Gen. John Ni­chol­son, com­man­der of U.S. and coali­tion forces in Afghanistan, told the Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee that he would wel­come thou­sands of more troops. But to do what and for how long?

The Tal­iban may be con­tained as long as our troops are present, but — as Hel­mand prov­ince proved re­dun­dantly — will move back in quickly when­ever we leave. Here again, the pres­i­dent should ex­plain to the pub­lic what our goal is in Afghanistan.

One of Gen. Ni­chol­son’s re­marks was, un­for­tu­nately, ig­nored. He said that Rus­sia is in­creas­ingly in­volved, sup­port­ing the Tal­iban against U.S. and NATO ef­forts. Last week Cen­tral Com­mand boss Gen. Joseph Vo­tel said that the Rus­sians are sup­ply­ing the Tal­iban with arms to fight our forces and those of the Kabul gov­ern­ment.

How does Mr. Trump plan to deal with Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in Syria and Afghanistan? He needs to fig­ure this out and tell the Amer­i­can pub­lic.

Amer­ica, we are fre­quently told by the Demo­cratic/me­dia axis, is “war weary.” Many Amer­i­cans — the vast ma­jor­ity of whom aren’t in the mil­i­tary — only seem to care when the left tells them to. Those who shoul­der the bur­dens of the fight — the war­riors and their fam­i­lies — want to win the war and fi­nally be done with it. After nearly 16 years, they have ev­ery right to feel that way. Amer­i­can’s aren’t “war weary.” But they are sick and tired of liv­ing in a state of per­ma­nent war that never re­sults in an Amer­i­can vic­tory.

Mr. Trump’s think­ing must go far­ther than set­ting im­me­di­ate goals. What does it mean to de­feat ISIS or the Tal­iban? He needs to de­ter­mine the end prod­uct, i.e., what do we want Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan to look like when we’re done?

It’s too early in Mr. Trump’s pres­i­dency to praise or con­demn his war plans. Though he is owed a chance to do what’s nec­es­sary, he needs to ex­plain to us — soon … what his goals are and how they will re­sult in a suc­cess­ful end to this seem­ingly-per­ma­nent war.

How does Mr. Trump plan to deal with Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in Syria and Afghanistan? He needs to fig­ure this out and tell the Amer­i­can pub­lic.


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