RTÉ

An RTÉ News Special Report

Trump and
Afghanistan

Following US President Donald Trump's announcement of a new strategy for Afghanistan, including a stepped-up military campaign, RTÉ News looks at a country that has become a byword for war and tragedy.

Natural Beauty

From desolate, snow-capped peaks to wild prairies, Afghanistan is a land of remarkable natural beauty. It's six times the size of the island of Ireland.

An Impoverished People

One of the world's poorest countries, less than half of Afghanistan's 33m people have access to electricity. Two thirds are illiterate.

A Victim of Geography

A landlocked country with few water reserves, its borders were established to create a buffer between Tsarist Russia and the British Empire. It has considerable mineral deposits, oil and gas. More importantly it lies at a very significant geopolitical fault line.

The Cold War

In the 20th Century it was a victim of the Cold War. Soviet Russia controlled Afghanistan from 1979 - 1989. The US channelled weapons to the Mujahadeen through its ally Pakistan helping to overthrow the Soviet-backed government.

War on America

In the 21st Century, the descendants of the Mujahadeen now wage war on the US, while Pakistan - America's traditional ally - continues to interfere in Afghanistan as it tries to create a bulwark against India, the other regional power.

Turkmenistan

Following the collapse of the USSR, the US started taking an interest in neighbouring Turkmenistan, with its massive gas reserves. After years of talks, which the US dropped out of, work has finally begun on a massive 1,800km pipeline linking Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

US Presidents in Afghanistan

The past six US presidents have all grappled with Afghanistan. Ronald Reagan’s administration channelled staggering sums of arms and money to aid Afghan Mujahadeen in their struggle with the USSR.

Abandoned to the Taliban

Reagan's successor, George Bush Sr, was in charge when, according to former secretary of defense Robert Gates, the US "abandoned that country only to see it descend into chaos and into Taliban hands".

Retaliation

In 1998 Bill Clinton ordered missile strikes on Al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan in response to the bombing of the American embassy in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.

9/11 and the 'War on Terror'

George W Bush has had the greatest impact on Afghanistan. As part of his “War on Terror” America attacked Afghanistan following the 9/11 terrorist atrocities, quickly concluding that the Taliban were a spent force. The administration shifted its focus to a new war in Iraq. This would turn out to be a costly error.

Obama Scales Back

Barack Obama sent more troops in, but gave a deadline for their withdrawal, allowing the Taliban to wait for them to leave. There are still more US military forces deployed in the country than in any other active combat zone.

Donald Trump campaigned to bring the troops home and get out of Afghanistan. The US has confirmed it currently has 11,000 troops on the ground - much higher than previously thought. Now he plans to deploy an additional 4,000 - for as long as they are needed - to train local forces. What changed his mind?

President Trump says things look different from the Oval Office. Several key advisers are military men who have long pushed for greater involvement in Afghanistan. They include Defense Secretary James Mattis, National Security Adviser HR McMaster, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen Joe Dunford.

Mr Trump offers no diplomatic vision to garner essential regional support. He criticised Pakistan, angering its ally China.

The Future of Afghanistan

The lack of a timeline for a withdrawal of US forces may allow conditions on the ground - rather than domestic political considerations - to determine deployment. But we have limited concrete information on what the commander-in-chief plans. The war has already run twice as long as Vietnam. Based on what we do know, the stalemate in the conflict is unlikely to be broken any time soon.