War in Afghanistan Could Be Over in a Week, Trump Says

President Donald Trump gestures as he greets Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan as he arrives at the White House, Monday, July 22, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
President Donald Trump gestures as he greets Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan as he arrives at the White House, Monday, July 22, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

President Donald Trump on Monday said the United States will work more closely with Pakistan to provide relief to U.S. forces in Afghanistan, where roughly 14,000 American troops are currently stationed.

While Trump did not elaborate on what the relief measures will entail, he said the White House will have new answers on Afghanistan "very quick" because he wants to bring more troops home from America's longest war as soon as possible.

"We're like policemen. We're not fighting a war. If we wanted to fight a war in Afghanistan and win it, I could win that war in a week. I just don't want to kill 10 million people," he said in the Oval Office, alongside Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan.

"I have plans on Afghanistan that, if I wanted to win that war, Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the Earth. … It would be over literally in 10 days, and I don't want to go that route," Trump continued.

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He said working with Pakistan will help the U.S. "extricate ourselves" from the conflict.

"We've been there for 19 years. It's ridiculous," Trump said.

The U.S. has lost 12 service members in Afghanistan this year. Since January 2015, 72 U.S. troops have died in the country, 53 under hostile conditions, according to the Defense Manpower Data Center.

The Trump administration boosted force strength in the region by 3,500 troops in 2017 and 2018 to support the advise-and-assist mission with the Afghan military.

While a plan for Afghanistan has not been fully articulated since Trump took office, early in his presidency he made clear his preference to give more leeway to generals, allowing them to take an aggressive approach toward stamping out extremist threats.

Such was the case with the highly publicized drop of the 21,600-pound GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) -- nicknamed the "mother of all bombs" -- against ISIS-K in the Achin district of eastern Nangarhar province in April 2017. ISIS-K is a branch of the militant group active in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But in his State of the Union address in February, Trump highlighted the need to pull out of Afghanistan entirely.

"Great nations do not fight endless wars," he said during the speech.

The president's latest comments come at a time when the conflict has become an afterthought to politicians and the American public.

Last week, during Dr. Mark Esper's confirmation hearing to become the next defense secretary, Afghanistan was mentioned twice in passing by lawmakers. No senator presented a direct line of questioning about Afghanistan.

However, in his written answers and testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Esper said that troop levels in Afghanistan should be directly tied to the level of violent extremist activity that could pose a direct threat to the U.S., and Afghanistan’s ability to mitigate those terrorist threats.

"As levels of violence decline and the capabilities of our Afghan partners improve, force levels could be adjusted accordingly," he wrote. "Progress in peace negotiations would reduce levels of violence and therefore factor into recommendations on force levels."

Esper added that he believes negotiations with the Taliban should continue.

"DoD supports reconciliation negotiations by applying military pressure on the Taliban leaders to negotiate. An enduring peace settlement can only result from direct negotiations among Afghans, including the Taliban, the government and representatives of all political groups, as well as civil society," he wrote.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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