President Trump reportedly told his top advisers he thinks the U.S. is “losing” the war in Afghanistan, and is reportedly considering replacing his top general in the country with Lieutenant General H. R. McMaster, his national-security adviser.
That Trump is skeptical about the need for more U.S. troops in Afghanistan isn’t a surprise. Last month ahead of a meeting with veterans of the Afghan war, Trump told reporters: “We’ve been there for now close to 17 years, and I want to find out why we’ve been there for 17 years, how it’s going, and what we should do in terms of additional ideas.” Asked during a subsequent visit to the Pentagon about whether he’d sent more troops to the country, Trump replied: “We’ll see.” In June Trump gave the Pentagon authority to set troop levels in Afghanistan. Still, Defense Secretary James Mattis has not yet deployed 3,900 troops the president authorized in June to send to Afghanistan, possibly because of Trump’s skepticism of the continued U.S. presence in the country.
It’s a skepticism Trump shares with his predecessor, Barack Obama, who campaigned for president vowing to win the war in Afghanistan, but by the end of his term dramatically reduced the number of U.S. troops there. At one point, he sent 30,000 troops to bolster security in the country on the advice of his military counselors. This was a move he felt, as Jeffrey Goldberg reported in 2016, he was “jammed” into by the Pentagon. Indeed, in 2013 Trump tweeted that he “agreed” with Obama’s plan for a “speedy withdrawal” from Afghanistan. “Why should we keep wasting our money?” he asked, suggesting the funds were better directed on domestic expenditure. (It’s worth pointing out that Trump has staked contradictory views on troop withdrawals: At the height of the Iraq war, he said in multiple interviews that he’d “get out” of the country, but during his presidential run, he attributed the rise of ISIS to Obama’s troop drawdown in Iraq, and said the U.S. should have taken Iraq’s oil in exchange for deposing Saddam Hussein—a case he’s made more recently with Afghanistan’s mineral wealth.)