KABUL (Agencies) – Afghans met Donald Trump’s pledge to keep American boots on the ground with hope yesterday, praising his criticism of Pakistan’s role in the grinding conflict which is exacting a heavy toll on civilians .
The US president cleared the way late on Monday for thousands more troops to be deployed in the war-torn country, backtracking on his promise to end America’s longest war.
The move ignited optimism among war-weary Afghans – despite fears voiced by analysts that the decision could see record civilian casualties rise even further.
“I am very hopeful that his strategy will bring changes to the situation in Afghanistan,” Abdul Hamid Sufoot said in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. “At least the commitment to stay in Afghanistan will give assurances to Afghans that they will not fall into the hands of terrorists again.”
“I am very optimistic. Trump’s speech was very strong,” said Mohammad Hussain Rahimi, a university student in the eastern city of Ghazni.
In his first address to the US public as commander-in-chief, Mr Trump ruled out a “rapid exit” from Afghanistan nearly 16 years after the war began, but gave few other details.
However, it was Mr Trump’s blunt criticism of Pakistan for offering safe haven to “agents of chaos” that drew the strongest praise from Afghans across the country.
“Agree or disagree with the man, but finally someone who understands Pakistan’s double game in Afghanistan,” Murtaza Omary wrote on Facebook in one typical comment.
Afghanistan has long accused its neighbour Pakistan of bankrolling and training Taliban militants and sending them across its border to destablise the country – charges Islamabad denies.
Consecutive US administrations have also criticised Pakistan, and on Monday Mr Trump signalled enough was enough, warning Islamabad that vital aid would
be cut if it continued “housing the very terrorists that we are fighting”.
“The pressure on Pakistan… is a key issue,” journalist Tawab Mohmand said in Kabul.
“If they close terrorists’ safe zones in Pakistan it will widely affect the activities of the terrorists in Afghanistan.”
In response to the move, Pakistan’s Foreign Office yesterday issued a carefully worded statement calling for “peace and stability in Afghanistan”. It also “underlined Pakistan’s continued desire to work with the International Community to eliminate the menace of terrorism”.
Some Afghans suggested the reasons for the conflict were more complex than Pakistan’s meddling, however, with corruption and a weak government contributing to the chaos. “Afghanistan’s government has to use this golden opportunity, of [the] world’s paying attention to this country once again, and bring necessary reforms in its all institutions,” said university lecturer Jawed Aziz in Kabul.
Others were less optimistic about the prospect of more troops ending the protracted war. The cost to civilians could be terrible, analysts have said. Afghans have already paid a heavy price, with civilian deaths at their worst since records began in 2009. “Trump’s strategy shows the war in Afghanistan may go on indefinitely,” a Twitter user wrote.
India praised Mr Trump’s plan. “We welcome President Trump’s determination to enhance efforts to overcome the challenges facing Afghanistan and confronting issues of safe havens and other forms of cross-border support enjoyed by terrorists,” the Indian foreign ministry said.
Nato allies Britain and Germany also welcomed the decision, but Germany’s defence minister said the country would not be among the first nations to send in more troops.
Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said: “Nato remains fully committed to Afghanistan and I am looking forward to discussing the way ahead with [Defence] Secretary [James] Mattis and our Allies and international partners.”