Trump hated signing killed-in-action letters that could link him to a war he oversaw, a book says.
The reporter Maggie Haberman describes in her new book Trump's views of the 20-year Afghanistan War.
He said in 2019 it's hard to sign letters to families of troops killed in conflicts, the book says.
Years before Donald Trump captured the presidency in 2016, he had voiced his strong opposition to the US presence in Afghanistan, railing against the war that began after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and toppled the Taliban-led government, which would emerge victorious in 2021.
In August 2012, Trump tweeted that Afghanistan was "a complete waste," adding that it was time for American troops to "come home."
During a March 2016 GOP presidential debate, Trump's message shifted: "Well, on Afghanistan, I did mean Iraq. I think you have to stay in Afghanistan for a while because of the fact that you're right next to Pakistan, which has nuclear weapons, and we have to protect that."
Just a few months into his first term in the White House, Trump seemed uncomfortable with the war in Afghanistan, and he resented having to sign "killed-in-action" letters, which in his mind, linked him to a conflict that he did not personally like but oversaw, a new book by the New York Times journalist Maggie Haberman says.
In the book, "Confidence Man," Haberman writes that Trump, who had generally been focused on North Korea as it related to international affairs, wanted to end the conflict in Afghanistan - but faced resistance.
"He fixated on North Korea and its nuclear capabilities, having his National Security Council draw up a menu of options, from the equivalent of annihilation to total appeasement, and a series of possibilities in between," the book says. "One high-level option involved personal contact with the country's reclusive leader, Kim Jong-un, but months passed before that option was visited."
It adds: "Trump cared about fulfilling a campaign promise, but aides were struck that he seemed rattled by the number of deaths involved; over time, he came to resent every 'Killed in Action' letter he was forced to sign after a service member died, not wanting to attach his name to a war he disliked and its needless deaths."
The war in Afghanistan claimed 2,324 American troops, as well as 3,917 contractors, according to Brown University's "Costs of War" project. The war was fought at the direction of four US commanders in chief, their defense secretaries, and the officers who reported to them.
All these presidents, and they alone, had the power to end US involvement in the war.
Like Trump, President Joe Biden pledged to end the conflict and accept the possibility of a Taliban victory - which came so fast it surprised Biden and his top advisors - but it's only Trump, the book says, who sought to distance himself from this responsibility to comfort the troops' family, an emotionally rending task that many presidents have struggled with.
In remarks from October 2019, Trump recounted the difficulties in signing letters to the families of the service members killed in conflicts.
"The hardest thing I have to do is signing those letters. That's the hardest thing I have to do," he said at the time.
He added: "And each letter is different. We make each letter different. And last week, I signed of them for Afghanistan, one in Iraq, one in Syria, from two weeks ago. And sometimes, I call the parents. I go to Dover when I can, but it's - it's so devastating for the parents that - you know."
As a candidate and then as president, Trump was repeatedly embroiled in controversies centering on families of slain troops. An Army sergeant's widow said the president forgot her late husband's name in a condolence call. Trump questioned the point of a Marine's sacrifice while talking to his father at the service member's Arlington National Cemetery grave, The Atlantic reported in 2020. He even suggested that he contracted COVID-19 from a gathering of Gold Star families.
In February 2020, the Trump administration signed a peace deal with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, setting the framework for the US withdrawal in Afghanistan that would trigger the collapse of its US-backed government.
Biden would go on to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan, in a process that was widely criticized as chaotic, despite the unpopularity of the war. In an August 2021 Insider poll, respondents blamed former President George W. Bush for the prolonged engagement more than any other US leader.
Trump, for his part, has rebuked Biden over the withdrawal, even though the Trump administration negotiated the abrupt withdrawal that Biden delayed and lacked plans to evacuate Americans and Afghans who had worked with them.
The issue will surely come up if the two men face off against each other in an anticipated 2024 presidential rematch.