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Iraqi special forces advance towards the city of Mosul, Iraq on Oct. 19, 2016. (Photo by Khalid Mohammed/AP)

Trump wants credit for mission he opposed, had nothing to do with

08/22/17 08:40AM

As far as Donald Trump is concerned, seven months into his presidency, he's already implementing national security policies that are having a positive effect. This line from his speech last night on the war in Afghanistan was rather jarring:

"As we lift restrictions and expand authorities in the field, we are already seeing dramatic results in the campaign to defeat ISIS, including the liberation of Mosul in Iraq."

In Trump's mind, drawing connections between unrelated developments is a little too easy. Mosul has been freed of ISIS control, he's "lifted restrictions" in the field, ergo Mosul has been liberated because of the changes he's implemented.

Except that's not how reality works. In this case, the mission in Mosul began before Trump was elected: Iraq's second-largest city was liberated because of a mission launched by Barack Obama.

Indeed, what Trump didn't mention -- and may not remember -- is that he opposed the mission he now wants credit for.

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Image: Donald Trump

Trump's new Afghanistan strategy is missing a new strategy

08/22/17 08:00AM

Donald Trump's speech last night was intended to present his vision for a new U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. After listening to the president's remarks, I have no idea what that new strategy is going to be.

President Donald Trump announced a new approach -- but no details -- for the U.S. war in Afghanistan on Monday, marking a major policy reversal for the man who in recent years had insisted America pull out of the war-torn country.

Acknowledging that his "original instinct was to pull out, and historically I like following my instincts," Trump said in a prime-time address to the nation from Ft. Myer in Arlington, Virginia, that after becoming president he realized a hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan would cede ground to terror groups.

"We are not nation-building again," Trump said before an audience of service members. "We are killing terrorists."

Of course, planning to go kill bad guys is an excellent strategy for a combat video game, but it's not necessarily the basis for a sound policy for dealing with the longest war in American history.

Trump and his national security team have reportedly been hard at work for months on overhauling the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, and while the approach outlined last night is certainly new for Trump -- he effectively told voters he'd pursue the opposite tack -- it's not new for the country.

The president, using language that was effectively identical to George W. Bush's war rhetoric, presented a plan in which the war in Afghanistan will continue indefinitely, with undetermined troop levels, until we "win" -- which is itself problematic, since Trump hasn't explained what a victory would look like or how his latest strategy would achieve this goal.

Philip Carter, the former assistant secretary of Defense, told Rachel last night Trump's speech was "opaque with respect to details, objectives, goals, and troop levels." In other words, the president's remarks lacked the most basic elements that are supposed to make up a national address on a new war strategy.

There was, however, one new thing that jumped out in the latter half of the speech:

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Monday's Mini-Report, 8.21.17

08/21/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* "The latest from Spain: "Spanish authorities said Monday that Catalan police fatally shot the man suspected of killing 13 people in a van attack on Barcelona's La Rambla."

* Ohio shooting: "An Ohio judge was shot in an apparent ambush-style attack on his way into a local courthouse on Monday morning, according to Jefferson County Sheriff's Department and NBC News affiliate WTOV."

* The USS McCain: "A widespread search operation was underway Monday for 10 American sailors missing after their guided-missile destroyer collided with a larger oil tanker off Singapore. The USS John S. McCain is the second Navy ship in three months involved in a collision with a merchant ship from another country."

* On a related note: "The Navy's top admiral ordered the entire fleet Monday to take a one-day 'operational pause' to make sure they are running their ships safely a day after the USS John S. McCain collided with an oil tanker off Singapore."

* The 15-member Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment is no more: "The Trump administration has decided to disband the federal advisory panel for the National Climate Assessment, a group aimed at helping policymakers and private-sector officials incorporate the government's climate analysis into long-term planning."

* This guy's ties to the Russian government are deeper than had been previously known: "Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian immigrant who met last summer with senior Trump campaign officials, has often struck colleagues as a classic Washington mercenary -- loyal to his wife, his daughter and his bank account. He avoided work that would antagonize Moscow, they suggested, only because he profited from his reputation as a man with valuable connections there."

* On a related note: "President Vladimir Putin has appointed a former deputy defense minister as Russia's new ambassador to the United States. The Kremlin said on Monday Putin has replaced Sergei Kislyak, whose tenure ended in July, with Anatoly Antonov, a deputy foreign minister and former deputy defense minister seen as a hardliner regarding the U.S."

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On Afghanistan, Trump poised to abandon pre-election positions

08/21/17 12:40PM

For quite a while, Donald Trump was consistent about his views on U.S. policy in Syria. He insisted, over and over again, that he saw military intervention in Syria as a terrible mistake. "We should stay the hell out of Syria," he declared at one point. "I would not go into Syria," Trump later added.

A few months after taking office, however, the Republican president did pretty much the opposite, launching a missile strike against a Syrian airbase controlled by the Assad regime.

Similarly, Trump has been consistent in criticizing U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan, which sets the stage for the president's speech tonight in Virginia, where he'll "provide an update on the path forward for America's engagement in Afghanistan and South Asia," which seems likely to include increased deployments -- the result of a months-long White House review.

The review, which was led by National Security Adviser Lt. Gen H.R. McMaster, looked at whether several thousand more troops should be deployed to the country, U.S. defense officials told NBC News last month.

The troops would be assigned to counter-terrorism and NATO training missions, the officials said, and would expand the American military's current footprint of roughly 8,400 troops.

We'll have to wait for additional details before assessing the White House's new "path forward" in Afghanistan, but if the reporting today is accurate, and the president intends to increase troop levels, it will be pretty much the opposite of what voters were led to believe was Trump's position.

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