Trump on Afghanistan: ‘We are not nation building again. We are killing terrorists’
Rep. Walter Jones stood nearly alone among congressional Republicans Tuesday as he firmly opposed President Donald Trump’s plan to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan.
Jones, R-N.C., accused Trump of reneging on a campaign promise to get troops out of Afghanistan.
“The disappointment to me is Mr. Trump had campaigned being very critical of overseas involvement and campaigned against staying in Afghanistan,” Jones told McClatchy.
“I understand that you need to listen to the generals and get their advice. But still, you are the president of the United States and you can make a decision different than what you have been advised. To me, this is just the continuation of a failed policy.”
Trump told the nation in a prime-time television speech Monday night that he would extend America’s commitment in Afghanistan, where the U.S. military has been involved since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
He reminded viewers of his previous opposition to keeping America’s military in a prolonged war with no apparent exit strategy but quickly added “all my life I’ve heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk of the Oval Office.”
“The consequences of a rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable,” Trump said. “A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum that terrorists – including ISIS and Al Qaeda – would instantly fill, just as happened before September 11th.”
Republicans were quick to praise the president. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., called the policy “principled realism.” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., often a Trump critic, praised the president for “taking a big step in the right direction.”
GOP dissenters were hard to find.
"The mission in Afghanistan has lost its purpose, and I think it is a terrible idea to send any more troops into that war,” said Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.
And there was Jones, who believes the consequences of having thousands of U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan are predictable – and unacceptable.
“Anytime you increase the numbers in a war, that means you’ll have more wounded and killed,” Jones said. “You can have special ops, you can probably have CIA, you can have all these different military-type groups, but you don’t have 8,000 to 10,000 Americans walking the country roads to get shot and killed and their legs blown off.”
Jones has long been a lonely Republican on America’s post-9-11 military involvement. He voted to authorize the military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan in the early 2000s but grew to deeply regret those votes.
He sent a letter to Trump last month highlighting tweets that Trump wrote before and after he entered the presidential race opposing a sustained military involvement in Afghanistan.
“Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires!,” Jones wrote in the letter. “We do not want a tombstone to read ‘United States of America.’”
Jones hasn’t received a response from the White House to his letter, his office said Tuesday.
Jones was the lone dissenting voice among North Carolina’s congressional delegation on Trump’s new Afghanistan strategy.
Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said “I applaud the president for clearly defining America’s objectives in Afghanistan and South Asia, which will help promote peace and stability in the region and ultimately make us safer at home.”
Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C., backed Trump’s plan, saying “a precipitous exit will be dangerous to America.”
“In contrast to the previous administration, our generals will be authorized to execute support for the Afghan government and military to win this war.”
Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., praised Trump for giving “a powerful speech…that signals a clear strategy seeking ‘an honorable outcome worthy of the sacrifices’ made by so many men and women in our military.”
The state’s Democrats in Congress were skeptical.
Rep. Alma Adams, D-N.C., said “We have already given so much and tonight the president pledged to give even more by putting more American lives at risk without providing any details.”
Rep. David Price, D-N.C., tweeted “No troop numbers. No timeline. No coherent strategy. The brave men and women of our armed services deserve more from the Commander-in-Chief.”
Brian Murphy of the McClatchy Washington Bureau contributed