Morale is poor among U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan, where military leaders have tried and failed to make President Donald Trump care about their mission there.
Before his scheduled departure in September, Gen. John Nicholson and his top advisers worked to “get people to care again” about their efforts in the 17-year-long war, according to three sources who spoke with The Daily Beast.
“There was a massive push to get people to understand that there was still work to do — peace talks to finish,” one source said.
Nicholson and his team discussed publishing more video content on social media about their efforts, publicizing the peace protests they were helping to monitor and, to attract Trump’s attention, asking Fox News correspondents to embed with troops — but the network ultimately did not send one.
Despite those efforts, the president has followed through on his threat to pull half — or, about 7,000 — of U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan, where seniors and staffers said morale had sunk to an all-time low.
“We know now that the withdrawal is going to happen,” one senior adviser told The Daily Beast. “Now it is just a matter of time until it happens. We had hoped that we could put this off.”
Former Defense Secretary James Mattis supported some of Nicholson’s efforts, and the two military leaders also backed efforts to broker peace negotiations between the Taliban and President Ashraf Ghani.
Mattis resigned Dec. 20 in part over his opposition to Trump’s policy of drawing down troops in Syria and Afghanistan, and now military advisers in Afghanistan are worried that no one is left in the administration who understands why they want to stay and complete their mission.
Trump, for his part, attacked Mattis and other military leaders to defend his decision to withdraw some troops serving overseas.
“I gave our generals all the money they wanted,” Trump told his Cabinet on Wednesday. “They didn’t do such a great job in Afghanistan.”
Peace talks are continuing, but military leaders in Afghanistan say they’ll do their best until they’re eventually pulled out.
“Maybe this wouldn’t have happened under a different president,” one source told The Daily Beast. “But we get what we get.”