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President Trump Speaks To Nation Outlining A Way Forward In Afghanistan


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Our troops will fight to win. We will fight to win.


That is the voice of President Trump there speaking to the nation last night, outlining his plan for the way forward in Afghanistan. In the room was an audience of active duty service members at Fort Myer, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. The setting was really reminiscent of President Obama's year one Afghanistan speech at West Point. They even hit on some of the very same points, like calling on Afghans to secure and build their own nation and persuading Pakistan to stop harboring terrorists. But there were also some differences worth talking about. And let's do that with NPR national security correspondent Mary Louise Kelly. Hey, Mary Louise.


GREENE: So what did you take away from this speech?

KELLY: Well, one is the war continues. The president said his initial...

GREENE: Yeah, after many years.

KELLY: Yeah. He said his initial instinct when he assumed the presidency was to pull out. But he said he's talked to his military advisers. He's changed his mind. You know, I think if you had to pick one line that sums up succinctly this speech, it might be this. He said, and I'm quoting, "we are not nation building. We are killing terrorists." And then he went on.


TRUMP: But we will no longer use American military might to construct democracies in faraway lands or try to rebuild other countries in our own image. Those days are now over. Instead, we will work with allies and partners to protect our shared interests.

KELLY: And, David, I want to let you know, President Ghani has reacted this morning. Afghan President Ghani reacted from Kabul this morning. He said he welcomes, as he called it, an affirmation of support for the joint struggle to rid the region from terrorism. But again, to sum up how President Trump is framing this, the clear focus is military. He talked about crushing the enemy. He talked about expanding authorities, lifting restrictions on the battlefield.

GREENE: So interesting because, I mean, this is just an evolution in terms of the emphasis on nation building or not emphasis. President George W. Bush went from not supporting nation building to the goals in Afghanistan changing. And then - just every president seems to deal with this - this question. OK, military, you talk about expanded authorities. That sounds interesting but really not many details from President Trump.

KELLY: Not many details. He did not, for example, talk about troop numbers. He did not talk about how he will measure progress - what will count to him is success. He didn't talk about how this may end someday down the road. He did say - and this, as I heard it, was a clear swipe at President Obama. He did say this is not an open-ended commitment. Patience is not unlimited. President Obama, you remember, was criticized for putting an expiry date on troop surges.

GREENE: Right.

KELLY: And the concern was if you say we're going to pull troops out at such and such a date, then why would the Taliban have any incentive to negotiate?

GREENE: So the president billed this as laying out a plan, not just for Afghanistan, but for its neighbors, I mean, calling it a new plan for, quote, "South Asia." Is that something we should be noting?

KELLY: Yeah. I think so. It was notable that he called for a stronger relationship with India. And he clearly sees a big role for India in making progress here. India, of course, being Pakistan's neighbor, also Pakistan's nemesis and archrival. And as for Pakistan, he talked about putting pressure on Pakistan to stop providing safe haven to the Taliban and other groups. He said we've been paying Pakistan billions of dollars at the same time that they house the terrorists we're trying to fight. And then he went on and said this...


TRUMP: But that will have to change. And that will change immediately. No partnership can survive a country's harboring militants and terrorists who target U.S. service members and officials. It is time for Pakistan to demonstrate its commitment to civilization, order and to peace.

KELLY: And what exactly that will look like, David, we don't know, nor do we know how this will differ from what the U.S. has tried in the past. I mean, putting pressure on Pakistan is not a new idea. You would be hard put to name an American president who found Pakistan an easy ally to work with.

GREENE: Yeah. You know, things have not been easy for President Trump recently. I mean, the tough - I mean, poll numbers, criticism after Charlottesville. What was the tone of the speech overall?

KELLY: Well, it was interesting. He never said the word Charlottesville. That never crossed his lips. But clearly it was on his mind. This was the president appealing for national unity after one of the worst weeks of his presidency here at home. He said - and this struck me - when we send troops abroad to fight, they deserve to return to a country not at war at home.

GREENE: OK. NPR national security correspondent Mary Louise Kelly talking to us about the president's speech last night. Thanks, Mary Louise.

KELLY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.