(CNSNews.com) – President Trump has voiced his determination to get America out of “endless wars” like the one in Afghanistan, while making clear he wants to keep a military presence in Iraq, both to keep a watch on Iran and to have troops close at hand in the event terrorist groups rear their heads in the region.
In an interview aired Sunday, Trump told CBS’ “Face the Nation” the war in Afghanistan – launched in response to the 9/11 terror attacks – would later this year enter its 19th year, and the U.S. was spending $50 billion a year on the mission.
Asked by CBS host Margaret Brennan whether he could trust the Taliban and could broker a peace deal with the fundamentalist group, Trump said, “I think they’re tired. And I think everybody’s tired. We’ve got to get out of these endless wars and bring our folks back home.”
He also reaffirmed his decision to withdraw the roughly 2,000 U.S. troops stationed in Syria, where they’ve been supporting Kurdish and Arab partners in the fight against ISIS.
Brennan pointed to a U.S. Senate vote on Thursday, in which all but three Republicans supported a measure expressing concern that “the precipitous withdrawal” of U.S. troops from Afghanistan or Syria “could put at risk hard-won gains” against terrorist groups. (Seven Republicans did not vote.)
“Doesn’t that concern you?” she asked.
“I ran against 17 Republicans [in the 2016 presidential primaries],” Trump replied. “This was a big part of what I was saying – and I won very easily.”
He questioned the use of the word “precipitous,” noting how long the war in Afghanistan has been underway, and drawing attention to the cost in physical and mental trauma to U.S. military personnel.
“They come back and they are totally different people, where the wives and the fathers and the mothers say, ‘What has happened to my son? What has happened (in some cases) to my daughter?’ It’s a terrible thing.”
“We’ve been there close to 19 years. And it’s time. And we'll see what happens with the Taliban. They want peace. They’re tired. Everybody’s tired,” he said, “I don’t like endless wars.”
Brennan noted that the intelligence community was raising concern that U.S. disengagement in the region could see a resurgence of ISIS and al-Qaeda terrorism.
But Trump said U.S. troops could “come back if we have to.”
“We have very fast airplanes. We have very good cargo planes. We can come back very quickly,” he said.
Besides, “we have a base in Iraq and the base is a fantastic edifice,” the president added, recalling his Christmas visit to U.S. troops at the Al Asad Airbase in Anbar province.
“I couldn't believe the money that was spent on these massive runways,” he said. “I've rarely seen anything like it. And it’s there. And we’ll be there.”
Trump repeated his long-held position that the Iraq war was a mistake, but said now that the “incredible” military base was there, “we might as well keep it.”
“It's perfectly situated for looking at all over different parts of the troubled Middle East,” he said, and reiterated earlier remarks about wanting to use the base to keep a watch on Iran.
“We’re going to keep watching and we’re going to keep seeing and if there’s trouble, if somebody is looking to do nuclear weapons or other things, we’re going to know it before they do.”
Trump spoke about the threat he sees posed by the “vicious” regime in Tehran, and asked about recent differences with intelligence chiefs over Iran, said he does not have to agree with the intelligence community.
During the George W. Bush administration, intelligence officials who “didn’t know what the hell they were doing” had said Saddam Hussein had nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, Trump said, and “got us tied up in a war that we should have never been in.”
“We were in many, many locations in the Middle East in huge difficulty,” he said. “Every single one of them was caused by the number one terrorist nation in the world, which is Iran.”
“So, when my intelligence people tell me how wonderful Iran is – if you don’t mind, I’m going to just go by my own counsel.”