Aug 26, 2017

The path forward for the War in Afghanistan

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
  • 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

Updated 20 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 2 p.m. ET: 6,800,604 — Total deaths: 396,591 — Total recoveries — 2,785,268Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 2 p.m. ET: 1,908,235 — Total deaths: 109,443 — Total recoveries: 491,706 — Total tested: 19,231,444Map.
  3. Public health: Some people are drinking and inhaling cleaning products in attempt to fight coronavirus Fauci: "Very concerned" about spread of virus amid George Floyd protests — Cities offer free testing for protesters.
  4. Tech: The pandemic is accelerating next-generation disease diagnostics — Robotics looks to copy software-as-a-service model as use of robots accelerates.
  5. Business: Sports, film production in California to resume June 12 after 3-month hiatus
  6. Education: Students and teachers flunked remote learning.

George Floyd updates

A protester holds a placard reading "Covid kills People, Racism kills Communities" as they attend a demonstration in Manchester, northern England, on June 6, to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. Photo: Paul Ellis/Contributor.

Thousands are gathering for a day of protests in Washington, D.C., almost two weeks after George Floyd's killing. Protesters in Australia and Europe staged anti-racism demonstrations on Saturday as well.

What's happening: A memorial service for Floyd is taking place in Raeford, North Carolina — near where he was born. Gov. Roy Cooper ordered all flags to fly at half-staff to honor Floyd until sunset. Thousands of demonstrators have gathered in Philadelphia and Chicago.

Buffalo police officers arrested after shoving 75-year-old protester

Photo: Mike Desmond/WBFO via AP

Two Buffalo police officers were charged with assault on Saturday after a video emerged of them shoving a 75-year-old protester while clearing a demonstration in the wake of George Floyd's killing, AP reports, citing prosecutors.

The state of play: Both officers pleaded not guilty to second-degree assault, and were released without bail. After the law enforcement officers were initially suspended without pay on Friday, all 57 officers on the Buffalo Police Department's Emergency Response Team resigned in a show of support for their fellow officers' suspensions.