New strategy of the trump administration in Afghanistan and chinese politics

Abstract. InAugust 2017, President Trump announced a new US strategy for Afghanistan. The new strategy is not a fundamental substitute for the US strategy in Afghanistan - its main goals and approaches have not changed significantly with regard to the strategy adopted by the Obama administration. The difference is mainly in tactical and operational aspects. However, Trump's new strategy offers some new ideas in the process of national political construction in Afghanistan. The new Trump strategy in Afghanistan has its advantages and disadvantages for China. China and the US lack the foundations for long-term strategic cooperation in Afghanistan. However, both countries can cooperate on specific issues to achieve certain goals.


Eight months after the change of the US president, the American strategy in Afghanistan and South Asia was finally expounded. On August 21, 2017, the US President Trump issued a statement on Afghanistan and South Asia, in which he announced a new strategy for the United States regarding Afghanistan and South Asia.

Being a neighboring country to China, as well as a geographical center connecting Central Asia, South Asia and Western Asia, Afghanistan occupies an important place in the security sphere of China and its plans for the Economic Belt of the Silk Road. The new US strategy will affect the development of Afghanistan, and also affect the strategic presence of China in Afghanistan and creation of the Economic Belt of the Silk Road. In this regard, China should conduct an objective assessment and respond appropriately.

The Obama Administration's Legacy
in Afghanistan

The Administration of George W Bush began the war in Afghanistan in 2001, and the end of this war was a difficult problem for three American presidents.

In March 2009, two months after he became President, Barack Obamaproposed an “American New Strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan” in an attempt to end the war in Afghanistan and solve the Afghan problem. The aim of this strategy is to defeat “Al-Qaeda”. The Obama Administration has put forward a number of new ideas, among which are: increasing military power in Afghanistan; general approaches to the problems of Afghanistan and Pakistan; transition from military strikes to methods of military and civil diplomacy; strengthening the support of the Afghan government and the military, gradual transfer to the government of Afghanistan of basic functions related to ensuring the country's internal security; separation of Taliban and Al Qaeda, focusing on fighting Al-Qaeda, differentiating the Taliban, seeking dialogue with the “moderate” Taliban; providing more support from its allies and the international community, and so on.

However, while Obama's strategy looked offensive, its main idea was withdrawal from Afghanistan. The new strategy just lays the foundation for the military withdrawal [1]. In June 2011, Obama announced the military withdrawal from Afghanistan and completion of transfer of the combat operations to the Afghan side by the end of 2014. By that time, the United States retained only a small number of military forces in Afghanistan, while their main task was to train the Afghan army [2].

2014 is an important turning point in the situation around Afghanistan. As the main American forces involved in military operations were withdrawn by the end of the year, Afghanistan faces trials and challenges to the future and destiny of the state. However, the US military retained more troops in Afghanistan than planned. In October 2015, President Obama signed a decree that in 2016, 9,800 troops will still remain in Afghanistan, and by 2017 it will be reduced to about 5,500 [3]. These goals of President Obama were not achieved. In 2017, the US Armed Forces announced the presence in Afghanistan of 8,400 American troops, in fact, they account for 11,000 [4]. During the 16-year war, the US military suffered heavy losses. By May 2017, the US Armed Forces lost a total of 1,865 people and 20,272 were wounded [5].

There are various forecasts about the development of the situation in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of US troops. Now it seems that, on the one hand, the situation in Afghanistan is really developing in the direction of deterioration. According to information provided by the US military, there are currently about 20 insurgent and terrorist groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan that pose a threat, including the Taliban, Haqqani Network, Al-Qaida and the Islamic State (ISIS) [5]. After the withdrawal of the US Armed Forces from Afghanistan at the end of 2014, terrorist attacks increased in the country and the level of security in the capital of Kabul was sharply weakened. For a short time, the Taliban even captured the strategically important city of Kunduz in the north-east of the country, which caused a colossal shock in Afghanistan. On the other hand, after the withdrawal of the main forces of the US armed forces, Afghanistan has not experienced the big collapse predicted by many. Although the Afghan government is fragile, it still exists. The Taliban could not seize state power, and the Afghan government did not plunge into uncontrolled chaos. According to the United States estimate, the Taliban control 11% of the 407 districts of Afghanistan, the Afghan government controls 60%, and control of 29% of the districts passes from one side to the other [6].

Thus, the United States could not put an end to the Afghan problem for itself; but there was no collapse. There are no hopes of winning; but they are not going to retreat - both directions are difficult.

The new strategy of the Trump Administration in Afghanistan

After Trump took office, Afghanistan was one acute problem that he could not avoid. The war in Afghanistan was the longest ongoing war in the history of the United States, not won by them.. Trump urgently needed to formulate a policy and make a choice in the Afghan issue. Thus, soon after taking office, Trump demanded that the US Department of Defense and the National Security Agency came up with strategies. Trump himself admitted that his initial plans were to withdraw completely from Afghanistan and no longer use American money to fill this bottomless pit. However, regarding the Afghan issue, Trump did not demonstrate his stubbornness in his views.

The US State Department announced the Trump's new strategy “Strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia”, which differs from the Obama's strategy of “The United States for Afghanistan and Pakistan” by name.

The background for Trump's new strategy is as follows: The United States believes that antiterrorist efforts in Afghanistan are part of the US global anti-terrorist strategy, and Afghanistan can still pose a serious threat to US security; the Americans are committed to Afghanistan, including continuing to support the Afghan national security forces and assisting the country; the United States does not repeat the mistakes of the rapid withdrawal of troops from Iraq and do not leave Afghanistan too quickly, since the rapid withdrawal of troops will have intolerable negative consequences for the United States.

The core of the new strategy is to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a source of threats to US security. The main objectives of the United States in Afghanistan are: to guarantee absence of sharp changes and fractures in the country; to destroy the terrorist organization of Al- Qaeda in the country, as well as ISIS and other organizations; not to seek to destroy the Taliban, but make them believe in the impossibility of victory in order to stop the Taliban from seizing power and to force the organization to sit down at the negotiating table; not to seek to build an American state model in Afghanistan, not to require the country to create its own state structure on the basis of American concepts and adopt any form of government that will be adopted as a result of negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban [7].

The main approach to the implementation of the new strategy is to increase strength in Afghanistan so that the US can engage once more in ground operations; resort to comprehensive political, economic and diplomatic methods; expand the capabilities of Afghan government forces; require more support from NATO and international partners; exert pressure on Pakistan, forcing it to no longer provide “shelter” to the Taliban and terrorist groups; strengthen strategic cooperation with India and ask Delhi to provide additional financial support to Afghanistan [8].

The biggest change in the new strategy is the adoption of a new guiding principle, according to which policies and actions must be implemented on the basis of real need without any preconceived restrictions. This means that the United States can pursue any policy and action at the tactical level if it is deemed necessary. This principle will not only be reflected in the number and duration of presence of the US troops deployed in Afghanistan, but also in US diplomacy [7]. At the same time, the new strategy allows the military to act more autonomously, and frees the hands of military commanders on the battlefield.

In comparison with Obama's strategy, Trump's new strategy does not show any fundamental strategic changes. Although it has some changes in philosophy and specific goals, the main difference is in the tactical and operational aspects.

The core and strategy of Obama and Trump's strategy is not to “leave” Afghanistan, and after leaving without loss of face ensure the impossibility of a destructive scenario. The view that the United States is leaving Afghanistan in a mess and running away from responsibility has not been confirmed - even Trump, having come to power, has changed his views.

The Afghan strategy of the Trump Administration, like the strategy of the Obama Administration, has adopted a version of the peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban as the most acceptable option. The Obama Administration pinned hopes on the “moderate” Taliban, while the Trump Administration does not distinguish between the “moderate” and “tough” Taliban. Compared to terrorist organizations such as ISIS, the Taliban are not only relatively “moderate”, but also not so progressive and ambitious outside Afghanistan. The Obama Administration sent a replenishment of 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, and then announced a massive withdrawal by the end of 2014. Neither the increase in the number of troops nor the withdrawal led to the fact that the Taliban went to serious negotiations with the Afghan government, and the security situation is getting worse and worse. This forced the Obama Administration to adjust its policy during the last phase of the tenure and suspend the withdrawal of troops. Trump does not have the opposite strategy at all, without limiting the size, duration and regime of the presence of American troops in Afghanistan. Instead of trying to defeat the Taliban, the stakes were set to deprive the Taliban of the hope of seizing power and show that it is better to share power with the central government and move on the path of negotiations than to arrive on the outskirts of political processes. In fact, in the last period of the Obama Administration's tenure, he held the same positions, but did not develop a clearpolicy [9].

Both Obama's Afghan strategy and Trump's strategy attach great importance to India and Pakistan, and their roles and positions are similar: both strategies are based on a strategic partnership with India, as well as cooperation with Pakistan, as the key to solving the Afghanistan problem. Nevertheless, Trump used the tactics of pressure and the use of tough methods and ultimatums to force Pakistan to meet the needs of the United States.

Trump’s Afghan strategy emphasizes only the desire to achieve the goals of security and common interests, while not touching the state structure of Afghanistan, and not using American ideas to reform the country. It is emphasized that “non-ideological position” is indeed a sign of the New Trump's strategy in Afghanistan. During the Obama’s tenure, the United States agreed with the principle that “Afghanistan is run by Afghans and Afghanistan is owned by Afghans” in the peace process in Afghanistan, but the current Afghan constitution and democratic Afghanistan are the cornerstone of national reconciliation and national construction. Although it is difficult to believe at the practical level that the Afghan government will abandon the current constitutional framework and agree to return to a religious form of government, that is, not a secular regime, but theoretically, from the Trump's new strategy, one can assume that the current constitution can no longer serve the basis for political reconciliation and state building. According to US Secretary of State Tillerson, there are no preconditions for negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Any national model that Afghans are prepared to accept will be acceptable if this does not pose a threat to the United States [7].

As expected, Trump's new strategy may bring some positive results on the battlefield, but the question is whether this strategy can lead to political achievements and put the Taliban at the negotiating table. The Taliban have their own assessments about the situation and they adhere to their own logic and way of thinking. They may not necessarily follow the path developed by the Americans.

However, the possibility that the Taliban will negotiate with the Afghan government cannot be excluded. This is not ruled out not only by the new US strategy, but also by a combination of factors. Negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government, which were held in July 2015 and were not continued because of the death of the leader of the Taliban, showed that negotiations are not impossible. The military presence of ISIS in Afghanistan is also an important factor, as it has become a strong competitor and rival of the Taliban in Afghanistan. In addition, reconciliation between the Taliban and the Afghan government is also supported by China, Pakistan, Russia and other countries in the region, which is also an important driving force for the negotiations.

There is one more question: What should Trump do if the new strategy is not successful?

Trump hopes that the new strategy will be implemented quickly and immediately. Nevertheless, the effect of the new strategy not meeting its expectations is highly probable. Trump said that he accepts Afghanistan is in chaos; but he also claims the role of a person who can close the issue, that is, who is in a position to solve the problem of Afghanistan.

The success or failure of the new strategy can first of all be checked in three aspects: first, whether or not the Taliban will agree to negotiate, secondly, whether Pakistan will comply with the US requirements, and thirdly, whether the Afghan government will be able to carry out serious reforms. Trump said that the United States does not give out blank checks and does not bear unlimited liability - the patience of the United States is limited [8]. This means that if the new strategy fails, Trump can change course. The new strategy basically reflects the judgments and programs of the US military, [5] if Trump refuses the new strategy, options to abandon Afghanistan or abandon the current Afghan government are eliminated; and the only option is a return to Trump's original “instinctive” thinking. But will the United States do this? If this is the case, serious upheavals and changes in the geopolitical structure in Afghanistan and the region will inevitably occur. And if we do not abandon the new strategy, Afghanistan will once again plunge into confusion and a dead end; and the United States will return to a state of uncertainty. In addition, Trump's team and even Trump himself are in permanent instability, and their long-term policy implementation is also questioned.

China's Responses to the Situation in Afghanistan

The differences and similarities between the interests and positions of China and the United States on the issue of Afghanistan should be objectively and accurately assessed; it is necessary to make rational decisions on how the China-US cooperation on Afghanistan will develop.

Although there is a strategic mistrust and competition in general, as well as a different understanding of the problem and the way of thinking between China and the United States, the interests and positions of the two countries on the problem of Afghanistan in fact have much in common.

Both China and the United States support the Afghan government and consider it a guarantor of restoration and maintenance of security. At the same time, both China and the United States hope that Afghanistan will maintain secular state power.

Both countries believe that stability in Afghanistan corresponds to their own security interests: the main goals of both states are to ensure security and stability in Afghanistan. There is a doubt that the United States intends to bring Afghanistan controlled instability as a basis for maintaining a long-term presence in the country. The US Armed Forces intend to maintain a long-term military presence in Afghanistan, [10]. In addition, there are still a number of US military bases in the country [5]. However, it is difficult to conclude that the situation in Afghanistan has been intentionally inspired by the Americans. This conclusion means that the US is able to solve the Afghan issue, but knowingly do not use the opportunities, but the reality is that regardless of whether the US deliberately misses the opportunity to decide or not, the Americans do not have the opportunity to achieve a complete victory on the battlefield. The United States cannot completely eliminate the rebel and terrorist groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

China and the United States do not have clear fundamental differences in understanding the final solution to the Afghan problem. Both countries consider political reconciliation to be the final decision. It is generally accepted that the United States wants to use military means to solve the problem without paying attention to political means. In fact, the policy of the United States has changed during the Obama’s tenure, and this policy now promotes political reconciliation between the Taliban and the Afghan government. The Trump's new strategy also inherited this policy. The military means of the United States nowadays mainly serves to promote political reconciliation.

The differences between Beijing and Washington have narrowed considerably as regards the issue of political reconciliation in Afghanistan. Both China and the United States agree with the principle that “Afghanistan is run by Afghans and Afghanistan is owned by Afghans”. Trump's new Afghan strategy makes it clear that the rejection of the idea of using the American model of the state to upgrade Afghanistan in favor of adopting any form of government chosen by the Afghan people is consistent with the China's position that the Afghan people should have the right to autonomous existence without introducing alien elements. China and the United States adhere to close positions in responding to anti-government and terrorist organizations. China has always regarded the Taliban as a political entity, viewing it as a representative of political and social forces that will exist for a long time. The United States now also applies a differentiated approach to the Taliban. With respect to Al Qaeda, the Haqqani network, the Islamic state, the term “terrorist organizations” is used, while the Taliban is called a “rebel organization”. This qualitative change has laid the foundation for the US to accept the political legitimization of the Taliban movement.

Trump’s new strategy in Afghanistan has both a negative impact on China and the positive sides. One of the negative aspects is the strengthening of the US military presence in Afghanistan and ensuring a long-term American influence.

The long-term military presence of the United States in Afghanistan does not meet the interests of China's strategic security. This gives the United States a military pillar in the center between Central Asia, South Asia and West Asia, and provides the United States with a powerful geopolitical leverage that can be used in Central, South and West Asia, as well as Russia and China. The military presence of the United States also threatens the China's potential strategic deterrence from the northwest. In the event of a serious incident in relations between China and the United States, US military forces in Afghanistan will become part of the strategic siege of China and a potential hidden danger to China's strategic security. In addition, the US policy towards India and Pakistan can increase tensions between these countries, increase the risk of political disagreements and confrontation in South Asia and deepen regional instability. On the other hand, theoretically it could be assumed that under the pressure of the United States, a tripartite mechanism of the United States, India and Pakistan on the problem of Afghanistan will be created.

The positive side of the new US strategy is that this strategy can help curb the Taliban movement, crack down on Al-Qaeda and stop ISIS in Afghanistan. If this can stabilize the worsening situation in Afghanistan, it will be useful for China's security, as well as for construction of “the Belt and the Way”. The new strategy of the United States in Afghanistan, which is trying to transfer the Taliban to the negotiating table, is also an incentive for the China's efforts to promote political reconciliation in Afghanistan.

Although China does not want the United States to deploy its troops in Afghanistan on an ongoing basis, under current conditions, China should not seek an early US withdrawal. In particular, Washington should not abandon political responsibility. On the one hand, the presence of Americans is an irritant; on the other, US involvement still plays an important role in solving the Afghan problem. Afghanistan's national security is ultimately to be ensured by the Afghan army itself; but at this stage the United States is the largest source of funding for the Afghan government and the military [5, pp.84- 85]. If this source of resources runs out, then it will be difficult for the Afghan government and the military to support themselves. After the Afghan government and the armed forces are unable to provide themselves, chaos will begin in Afghanistan; the Islamic state and Al-Qaeda will certainly take advantage of the opportunity to expand their positions, and state power could fall into the hands of the Taliban. The fate of the Najibullah regime is a warning.

In the short term, the Afghan government will not be financially self-sufficient, and it will be difficult to find a full alternative source of funding. 16 billion US dollars for financial assistance to Afghanistan, established by the Tokyo International Conference on Afghanistan in 2012, ended by 2016. In October 2016, the BrusselslnternationalConferenceonAfghanistan outlined its plan to help Afghanistan in 2017- 2020. The international community promised to provide Afghanistan with a total amount of 15.2 billion US dollars [11]. The United States plays an important role in these arrangements and is also the largest provider of funds for the Afghan government to hold 325,000 troops and the police.

The new strategy of the United States in Afghanistan pursues pragmatism, while its volatility and uncertainty will be significant. When Washington considers that the strategy needs to be changed, it will not take into account the interests of other countries. Therefore, China and the United States have no basis for long-term, comprehensive and stable strategic cooperation in Afghanistan. However, this does not mean that China and the United States cannot and should not cooperate in Afghanistan. However, such cooperation will mainly focus on specific issues and pursue narrow goals.

At present, the most important aspect of cooperation between China and the United States in Afghanistan should be facilitation of peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban and resumption of the process of political reconciliation in Afghanistan. Both China and the United States are particularly important players in promoting political reconciliation in Afghanistan. Both countries are members of the “Afghanistan-Pakistan-China-US” quartet, as well as participated in the first talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. As China has good relations with the Afghan government, close relations with Pakistan, opportunities for contacts with the Taliban and powerful economic leverage, China has more favorable conditions than any other major player in promoting political reconciliation in Afghanistan. In this regard, the new US strategy in Afghanistan will require cooperation with China, especially if the new strategy fails or in case of deterioration of relations with Pakistan. China and the United States need to intensify consultations on how to resume the process of political reconciliation in Afghanistan, strengthen coordination and cooperation and conduct more effective cooperation.

Antiterrorist cooperation is mandatory in interaction on the Afghan issue. At present, the current Chine-US anti-terrorist cooperation in Afghanistan should focus on ISIS, the destruction of the foundations of Al-Qaida, curbing the growth of terrorist forces and preventing the spread of terrorism to nearby areas. Since China does not participate in military operations in Afghanistan, the interaction between the two countries is carried out in the form of the China- US cooperation in the fight against terrorism, primarily cooperation in various fields, exchange of intelligence information, creation of networks of anti-terrorist networks, fight against terrorism in the financial sphere, anti-drug cooperation, prevention of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and political coordination at the regional and international levels.

In addition, China and the United States also have the opportunity to cooperate in promoting economic development and building regional infrastructure in Afghanistan. Although Trump announced the new strategy in Afghanistan to get rid of the financial burden, domestic economic construction and infrastructure development increases the economic independence of Afghanistan, which is also an important basis for long-term stability in Afghanistan and, thereby, contributes to the goals of the new US strategy in Afghanistan. The United States has both economic potential and international resources, and organizational capabilities. China should push the Trump Administration to continue the policy of helping Afghanistan's economic development and regional ties.



  1. Remarks by the President on the Way Forward in Afghanistan, June 22, 2011 http://www. \
  2. Statementby the President OnAfglianistan, October 15,2015. the-press-oflice/2015/10/15/statement-president-afghanistan
  3. Afghanistan Force Management Accounting Change Emphasizes Transparency, Aug. 30, 2017. accounting-change-emphasizes-transparency/
  4. Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan, Department of Defense, USA. Report to Congress InAccordance With Section 1225 of the Carl Levin and Howard P. “Buck” McKeon National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 (P.L. 113-291), as amended. June 2017. P6. 1/Documents/pubs/June_2017 1225_Report_to_ Congress.pdf
  5. Krislmadev Calamur, Is Trmnp Right About Afghanistan? Aug 3, 2017. https://www.
  6. Rex W Tillerson, Secretary of State, Strategy in Afghanistan and South Asia, August 22, 2017 https://www. 577.htm\
  7. Remarks by President Tmmp on the Strategy in Afghanistan and South Asia, August 21, 2017. strategy-afghanistan-and-south-asia
  8. In the speech, the US special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Olsen said: "The Taliban should not expect that the United States will refuse to support the Afghan government. The United States will not leave until the peace process is guaranteed. " Richard Olson, Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Remarks to the Atlantic Council, June 21, 2016.
  9. Kevin Sieff and Sayed Salahuddin, Karzai says U.S. wants to keep 9 bases in Afghanistan, May 10, 2013. le2-b568-6917f6ac6d9d_stoiy.html
  10. The Brossels Conference OnAfghanistan, 4-5 October, 2016. the-brussels-conference-on-afghanistan.
Year: 2018
City: Almaty