November 28, 2018

Afghanistan is a disaster

I was supposed to be on CNN today, but was pre-empted. This is what I would have said.

Afghanistan is a disaster, one which we partially created. You can blame both the Bush 43 and Obama 44 administrations for getting us where we are. That said, after two years of the Trump 45 Administration, we see no improvement, just more of the same claims of progress, improvement, etc. Yet, no one has claimed "victory."

When the highest ranking officer in the country, US Marine Corps General Joe Dunford, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, declares in an international forum that the "Taliban are not losing," you have a problem. "Not losing" can mean two things: they're winning, or this is a stalemate.

Up until this summer, I was willing to give the Pentagon the benefit of the doubt about who was winning, but after the debacle in Ghazni that required a substantial intervention with American combat forces, I would say the Taliban now have the upper hand.

Why? Why after 17 years are we still involved in a small war thousands of miles from home, against an inconsequential adversary?

The answer is simple - we left the fight.

There never was much real interest in Afghanistan other than the removal of al-Qa'idah and the killing/capture of Usamah bin Ladin. That required the defeat of the Taliban government (great job by the US military and CIA), but we made the ridiculous "agreement" with the US-allied Northern Alliance at Tora Bora on the Pakistan border where we basically allowed Usamah bin Ladin to escape to Pakistan. After that mistake, there was no real role for a continued US military presence in Afghanistan.

But no, we have to "nation build," hoping that American style democracy would catch on in the country. Naivete on steroids. We tried anyway, to no avail.

In 2014, President Obama told the Taliban what date the US was ending its combat mission in the country and withdrawing the bulk of our forces. (We did the same thing in Iraq.) The message: "We're leaving, its all yours if you are willing to just wait." This is the folly of telling your enemy when you are leaving and going home.

During that misguided calculation, someone realized that we can't abandon the fledgling - and failing - Afghan government to the easily-predicted and totally-expected resurgence of the Taliban.

We spent massive amounts of money creating and training the Afghan army and security forces, but it hasn't worked. After years of training and billions of dollars - not to mention our most precious asset, the continued bloodshed by American troops - it is a dismal failure.

News flash - the Afghans just don't function well in Western-style military formations. Compare that to the Afghan mujahdin we trained in the 1980's, and to the Taliban, created by the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) - light guerrilla forces that are very effective.

Over the past year, the Taliban has retaken from the Afghan army much of the territory that American forces originally took from them, often at great cost. I am not sure pouring more American blood and treasure will make a difference. Yet, it gets worse - the deteriorating situation has allowed al-Qai'dah to return to the country, as well an increasing ISIS presence. The country is fast becoming "radical Islamist central."

The Afghan military and security forces are not going to be able to defeat these Islamist forces. Unfortunately, if the defeat of these groups is our policy (and I am not sure that it really is), it will require US (and NATO/other allies, but the bulk of it will be American) combat troops directly engaging them, not by troops tasked with "training and advising" the Afghans. It seems we are averse to actually winning wars anymore, instead opting to seek political objectives or "outcomes."

Now that the Bush and Obama administrations have gotten us here, I'd like to know what the Trump Administration has in mind, because what we're doing now is not working.