RELATED: Trump hedges as military pitches more aggressive strategy
In a nod to his past calls to end U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, Trump said his “original instinct was to pull out, and historically I like following my instincts. But all of my life I’ve heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office, in other words when you are president of the United States.
After a lengthy review with his top military advisers, Trump said he concluded “the consequences of a rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable.”
RELATED: Trump studying options for new approach to Afghan war
Pointing to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in suburban Washington, Trump warned “a hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum that terrorists — including ISIS and al Qaeda — would instantly fill, just as happened before” the 2001 attacks.
“I concluded that the security threats we face in Afghanistan and the broader region are immense,” Trump said.
As part of what he described as a new strategy, Trump also said the United States will intensify pressure on Pakistan, whose intelligence services have been accused of supporting terrorist organizations that have launched attacks in Afghanistan.
“We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond. Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with our effort in Afghanistan,” Trump said. “It has much to lose by continuing to harbor terrorists.”
He also raised the specter that nuclear weapons from Pakistan or India’s arsenal could fall into the hands of terrorists, saying “we must prevent nuclear weapons and materials from coming into the hands of terrorists and being used against us or anywhere in the world for that matter.”
Trump’s decision is controversial as many Americans are weary of the prolonged conflict, in which more than 2,300 American soldiers have been killed in action. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction this summer reported the U.S. has spent $714 billion for both combat operations and reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan.
The same report showed that nearly 60 percent of the districts in Afghanistan are under government control. But the Afghan Army has been unable to seize the nearly 40 percent of the land controlled by the Taliban, which has sponsored a bloody insurgency against the government.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich said that “16 years and the lives of over 2,000 American heroes are more than enough of a price to have paid to eradicate a terrorist sanctuary. America cannot afford to make an open-ended commitment of further lives and treasure to the improbable proposition of building a cohesive nation in Afghanistan,” the Republican governor said in a statement.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said the speech “is a reversal from the president’s years of criticizing this war — both as a private citizen and a candidate. Tonight’s address left us with nothing more than unanswered questions.”
But Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, countered by saying, “We cannot allow Afghanistan to be used again as a safe haven from which al Qaeda, ISIS, and our terrorist enemies can launch attacks on the U.S. and our allies. To do that we need stable partners in the Afghan government.”