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Carolyn Kaster / AP

"Our troops will fight to win. We will fight to win," Trump said during his prime-time announcement on Afghanistan earlier this week, adding that troop levels would be determined by conditions on the ground, not a timetable.

What we're watching for is what those conditions are, and what Trump is signaling about the path forward:

Trump's approach to the enemy:

  • Trump's objectives are "obliterating" ISIS and al Qaeda and keeping the Taliban from taking over the country.
  • The top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, John Nicholson, said the U.S. is increasing our air support to Afghan forces Thursday.
  • But right now, the Taliban controls more territory than at any point since 2001 and boasts several successful military operations just this year.
  • "No serious analyst thinks that the U.S. is going to vanquish the Taliban," Stephen Tankel of CNAS told Axios, and Ben Rhodes, who was Obama's Deputy National Security Advisor, told VICE News this week, "they're not going to leave and go someplace else."

Take a hint from those listening to Trump's orders: It's about peace talks.

  • Nicholson, said this week the Taliban can't win on the battlefield and will have to agree to peace talks.
  • Indeed, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Thursday "the ultimate goal is a peaceful settlement between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban," but wouldn't detail whether a condition for U.S. withdrawal was getting rid of the terrorist networks in Afghanistan.

Stay tuned on what approaches to political settlement could look like:

  • H.R. McMaster told reporters Friday at the White House press briefing, "No, I'm not confident" a political settlement could hold.
  • Trump himself didn't lay this out in detail. Former Acting CIA Director John McLaughlin told The Cipher Brief Trump's statements "could mean support for a political agreement giving the Taliban a less than dominant share of governing power — but that is not clear."
  • Past talks have tended to be secret but have fallen apart due to "bad timing, bad faith or miscalculation," per the NYT. The Taliban itself has "torpedoed" efforts to talk, Jahvid Ahmad writes for the WSJ. RAND assessed years back that without a third-party guarantor, such as the UN, overseeing negotiations, they could falter and conflict could reignite.
  • One big hurdle is the Taliban is fragmented, and not all factions agree that peace talks are the way to go.
  • Not to mention, Pakistan's role...

Trump's approach to Pakistan:

  • Trump talked about putting more pressure on Pakistan for its support of the Taliban, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hinted the U.S. could put aid and military assistance on the line to pressure Pakistan to get the Taliban to the negotiating table, Bloomberg reports.
  • Tankel of CNAS told Axios a "desire to get Pakistan to break decisively with the Taliban" is "unrealistic" (More on that via Military.com.)
  • Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi called Trump's announcement an attempt "to scapegoat Pakistan," Al Jazeera reports. China came to Pakistan's defense as well, per the AP.

Go deeper on a potential "Trump Doctrine" via the AP's Josh Lederman, here.

Go deeper

Poll: U.S. leadership approval rebounds from Trump low

A Gallup report published Tuesday found approval of United States leadership in 46 countries and territories hit 49% — up from 30% at the end of Donald Trump's presidency, and matching former President Obama's first year (2009).

Why it matters: Biden's efforts to reengage with the international community following the Trump administration appear to be improving the global approval ratings for U.S. leadership, though this poll does not take into account the withdrawal from Afghanistan in August.

These technologies could bring America to net zero emissions by 2050

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The newest section of a project from Third Way, the Bipartisan Policy Project and Clean Air Task Force examines how energy breakthroughs could accelerate America's transition to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Why it matters: The report chapter, provided first to Axios, is part of a broader effort known as the Decarb America Research Initiative, which explores the best ways to move the U.S. toward a net zero carbon emissions future by 2050.

"No-code" miracle for startups

Expand chart
Data: Interactive Advertising Bureau; Table: Axios Visuals

The U.S. has reached a tipping point in its shift from the industrial economy — one that relied on the buildout of hardware — to an information economy that relies on the transfer, storage and implementation of data, according to a new report.

Why it matters: This shift towards a data and information-based economy has allowed more businesses to establish themselves and scale quickly and at a very low cost. As such, the number of jobs created by the commercial internet has more than tripled since 2012.