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Trump Bucks 'Original Instinct' to Pull Out of Afghanistan

ARLINGTON, Va. -- President Trump said that though his "original instinct was to pull out" of Afghanistan over frustration with the course of the 16-year war there, his advisers convinced him that "the consequences of a rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable."

Trump did not divulge troop levels in his prepared primetime remarks in front of soldiers at Fort Myer this evening, but reports indicate 4,000 more U.S. troops would head to the country. At the peak of the Afghanistan surge, in the Obama era, more than 100,000 U.S. troops were there; that was down to around 8,400 when President Obama left office.

Trump also said that "perhaps it will be possible to have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan," a continuation of the Obama-era policy of wanting to negotiate with the Taliban. The Obama administration refused to brand the Taliban, a stalwart al-Qaeda partner, as a foreign terrorist organization so that negotiations would be open. The Taliban killed two U.S. soldiers in a car bombing this month.

"A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum for terrorists, including ISIS and al-Qaeda, [to] instantly fill just as happened before Sept. 11. And as we know, in 2011, America hastily and mistakenly withdrew from Iraq. As a result, our hard-won gains slipped back into the hands of terrorist enemies. Our soldiers watched as cities they had fought for and bled to liberate, and won, were occupied by a terrorist group called ISIS," Trump said. "The vacuum we created by leaving too soon gave safe haven for ISIS to spread, to grow, recruit, and launch attacks. We cannot repeat in Afghanistan the mistake our leaders made in Iraq."

"...But one way or another, these problems will be solved. I'm a problem-solver. And in the end, we will win."

In a change from the Obama administration's timetables that were subject to alteration near the expiration date, Trump said that "conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables, will guide our strategy from now on."

"Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with our effort in Afghanistan. It has much to lose by continuing to harbor criminals and terrorists. In the past, Pakistan has been a valued partner. Our militaries have worked together against common enemies. The Pakistani people have suffered greatly from terrorism and extremism. We recognize those contributions and those sacrifices," the president continued. "But Pakistan has also sheltered the same organizations that try every single day to kill our people. We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting. But that will have to change. And that will change immediately."

Defense Secretary James Mattis, who was integral in the "rigorous interagency review" that crafted the South Asia strategy, said in a statement that he's directed the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff "to make preparations to carry out the president’s strategy."