Stressing that he does not believe a U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan will be permanent, despite a 16-year presence and no end in sight, U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton said President Trump’s approach to the military quagmire will be different than previous efforts.
Cotton, R-Ark., tells Talk Business & Politics that in his conversations with Trump on the subject he has emphasized the need to avoid leaving a void for terrorism to thrive.
“Well, there’s no doubt that our approach to Afghanistan has taken some twist and turns and moved from side to side a little bit over the last 16 years. It’s been especially the case over the last four or five years,” said Cotton. “One thing, in my conversations with the President that I stress and that he understood, is that we cannot allow to happen in Afghanistan in 2017, what happened in Mosul, Iraq in 2014. Pull out, leave a vacuum, and the Islamic state or Al-Qaeda take over.”
Cotton outlined three major differences in Trump’s new Afghanistan policy, which he outlined on Monday night in an address to the nation. Candidate Trump criticized the war in Afghanistan and pledged to end U.S. involvement, but as president, he has taken a different tact.
“The big difference is, I would say, between what President Trump announced this week and what we saw in the last several years from the Obama administration, is one, we’re going to take a much tougher approach towards those groups. The rules of engagement are probably going to be expanded to allow broader targeting, so they’re going to feel the pain very quickly.
“Two, we’re going to look at a regional approach where we put more pressure on the Pakistani government that is going to have to start working more carefully with us to try to root out these terrorist organizations that are in the Afghan-Pakistan border areas. And three, we’re not announcing our withdrawal. We’re not saying that we’re going to set arbitrary numbers on troop levels. We’re going to say conditions on the ground and that core mission is going to drive the resources and the troops we commit to Afghanistan and the time we’re there,” he said.
When asked if a U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan would be permanent, similar to military posts established around the world after WWII and the Korean War, Cotton said no.
“So, I don’t think we’re there permanently, but we might have this small troop presence there for some number of years,” said Cotton. “That doesn’t mean they’re going to be out kicking down doors and pulling triggers. We may have some special operation forces that are doing that, but the bulk of the forces there are providing combat support, training, advising, assisting functions for the Afghan army. The Afghan army has a lot of troops, they’re out on the front lines, they’re doing the patrol lane. But they don’t have the kind of aviation capabilities or intelligence capabilities or logistics capabilities that our professional world-class army has. So we’re providing a lot of support functions, as well as training those Afghan forces.”
You can watch a portion of the interview below. Cotton’s full interview will air this weekend on Talk Business & Politics, which airs Sundays at 9:30 a.m. on KATV Channel 7 in Central Arkansas; 10 a.m. on KAIT-NBC in Northeast Arkansas; and 10:30 a.m. on KFSM Channel 5 in Northwest Arkansas/Fort Smith.