Eyeing Afghanistan’s dormant economic wealth, U.S. changes its Afgh-Pak strategy

This a significant strategic shift by the Trump Administration has potentially serious geo-economic consequences for the region and has the potential to bring about a turnaround in Afghanistan’s economy.

With the U.S. Administrations deciding to secure Afghanistan from rogue elements, some of which have the tacit backing of the Pakistani state, the U.S. Air Force is likely to intensify its sorties in the region as well as expand the training of the Afghan air force, said General David Goldfein, the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force.

However, he went on to add that he was still examining the matter and that the U.S. military’s top brass has only just begun the process of translating Trump’s war strategy into action.

“It’s actually too early to tell what this will mean in terms of plus-ups and reductions,” said Goldfein while adding that the U.S. Air Force was “absolutely” examining the possibility of increasing air power, including the support for U.S. ground forces, following Trump’s decision to step up the campaign against Taliban insurgents.

The U.S. will also expand its training to Afghan pilots.

While he noted that the Afghan military has made some strides, thanks to U.S. training and equipment, however “I think there is a long way to go there, very honestly.”

The Trump Administration has stated that there will be an increase in U.S. ground troops, but has chosen to not divulge numbers, as yet.

On Tuesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said he would set troop levels following the review by military chiefs.

In the previous Administration, U.S. military officials had privately vented their frustration at not being able to strike as many Taliban targets, including training camps, as they see fit, unless they are a direct threat to U.S. forces or have a major impact on the Afghan state.

According to Wilson, Trump’s approach gives the military more flexibility to strike insurgents.

“Obviously the Joint Chiefs will work through their plans and make proposals, but I think the guidance was pretty clear from the president last night, and we’re going to go on the offensive and destroy these terrorist networks,” said Wilson.

“I thought that came out very loud and clear in the speech that that’s his priority,” said Goldfein.

This development is potentially a milestone since it represents a “strategic correction” in the war against terror especially with a significant shift in U.S. policy towards Pakistan, said Wilson.

This was made clear in Trump’s speech where he rebuked and warned Islamabad very clearly that if it were to continue its strategy of allowing safe havens to exists in its lawless areas bordering Afghanistan it had “much to lose”.

Just like it had denied sheltering Osama Bin Ladden until he was killed in Pakistan by U.S. Special Forces, Pakistan has denied that it harbors militants fighting U.S. and Afghan government forces in Afghanistan.

Successive U.S. administrations have struggled to cope with a nuclear-armed Pakistan, with the U.S. military dependent on the country for flight paths and land routes to resupply its troops in landlocked Afghanistan.

Towards this end, Wilson did not rule out a future U.S. military role against militants in Pakistan should Islamabad fail to act.

“My assumption is that there will be some intense diplomatic pressure,” she said.

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