On Monday evening, President Trump announced to the country that the war in Afghanistan would move forward and that he would increase troop levels, but failed to include details over strategy or how success would be measured in a conflict that has now stretched on for over 16 years.
There are currently 8,400 American troops stationed in Afghanistan, serving as part of the approximately 13,000 international forces tasked with training and advising the Afghan military. About 2,000 of those American troops carry out counter-terrorism missions in the country.
Despite campaign rhetoric describing a desire to withdraw and decrying Afghanistan as a failure, the President said he has come to recognize that pulling out troops would threaten the tremendous progress that has been made and leave the country vulnerable to the Taliban as well as some of the same ISIS forces that have overtaken Iraq in recent years.
President Trump said he is committed to training even more Afghan troops, who make up the overwhelming bulk of the fighting forces, and will put greater pressure on Pakistan to crack down on border areas that give sanctuary to Taliban fighters.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani responded that he was pleased with President Trump’s announcement, and added, “The strength of our security forces should show the Taliban and others cannot win a military victory. The objective of peace is paramount. Peace remains our priority.”
While Trump placed blame for the current Afghan predicament on President Obama, foreign policy experts were quick to point out that their strategies are not all that different. However, a large and confusing deviation between the two Presidents’ policies came when Trump declared that, “We will no longer use American military might to construct democracies in far-away lands,” adding, “We are not nation-building again. We are killing terrorists.” Meanwhile, Trump’s State Department is severely understaffed, as there is not even currently an ambassador to Afghanistan in the U.S. embassy in Kabul.
But supporting the societal and political gains that have been achieved, especially for women, is critical to establishing security and stability in the region. Continuing to work with women and girls in a way the President might dismiss as “nation building” is considered imperative to the larger mission of peace.
Portrayals of Afghanistan in the American media often show war, women in burqas and extreme violence. In reality, however, women and girls now have much more opportunity to attend schools and universities, as well as access health facilities. Rates of infant, child and maternal mortality continue to fall and there are more and more women being trained as midwives. There are also growing numbers of women participating in STEM industries, free media, music groups, advocacy, athletics, the military and the electorate. Some 80 percent of Afghan women now have regular or occasional access to mobile phones.
But advocates for Afghan women and girls still see a lot of areas for improvement. In a recent briefing for Members of Congress held by the Feminist Majority Foundation, Afghan women suggested future policy initiatives that could support Afghan women who join security forces, establish national election fairness and human rights commissions, and increase women’s access to education, health services and contraception. In addition, increased resources need to be directed to women in areas formerly controlled by the Taliban, and though there is a rise in women entrepreneurs, many do not know how to grow their businesses to enter the international market.
The Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues is a position within the State Department that is charged with advancing this exact type of policy and promoting the rights of women and girls by considering their experiences and perspectives in all diplomatic missions. So far, the Trump administration has failed to appoint anyone to this position.
Media Resources: New York Times 8/21/17; CNN 8/22/17; Tolo 8/22/17; Feminist Majority Foundation 6/21/17, 7/28/17