The latest news about Afghanistan varies from the profoundly dismal to the fatuously absurd.
One depressing story is the UN Office of Drugs and Crime report of November 15 that opium production for manufacture of heroin jumped to 9,000 metric tons so far in 2017, up 87 percent from 4,800 metric tons last year. It noted that “insecurity and political instability” are key drivers of illicit poppy cultivation. In other words, the country is a lawless shambles.
Amid this succession of policy failures, only one program, in Sopko’s view, had a discernible impact on drug production: the launching of a massive occupation of the country’s key southern opium districts by the U.S. military and the Afghans they were training. Checkpoints were set up at almost every road crossing. “In Marjah,” he reports, “located in the opium poppy heartland of Helmand Province, the share of agricultural land dedicated to poppy was almost 60 percent prior to the major influx of U.S. and Afghan forces. After Operation Moshtarak, in which 15,000 U.S. Marines and the ANDSF [Afghan National Defense and Security Forces] occupied the district in February 2010, the amount of land dedicated to poppy fell to less than 5 percent.” By the end of that year, 20,000 leathernecks in 50 fortified bases, backed by 10,000 British troops, had temporarily wrested control of the province from the Taliban guerrillas and checked the opium traffic that had sustained them.
After nine months of confusion, chaos and cascading tweets, Donald Trump’s White House has finally made one thing crystal clear. The United States is staying in Afghanistan to fight and — so the administration insists — win.
Afghanistan in 2016 saw 11,489 of its civilians killed in armed conflict, according to international observers. This was the highest number since external recording started in 2009. This year is expected to be at least as bad. The fighting season from May-October was particularly intense, with substantial losses among Afghan security personnel.
October marked the sixteen-year anniversary of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan. President Donald J. Trump’s announcement of a new South Asia strategy in August 2017 affirmed an open-ended U.S. military commitment in Afghanistan, raising questions about ending the United States’ longest war. Meanwhile, the Taliban has increased its territorial and population control in the past year; the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction reported [PDF] in October that the Taliban influences or controls more than 13 percent of Afghanistan’s 407 districts and contests another 30 percent.
Power cables from Naghlu dam to eastern Nangarhar and Laghman provinces have been cut 57 times in the past two years, causing a huge loss, officials say.
When Donald Trump announced his administration’s strategy for Afghanistan, it was welcomed by Kabul’s leaders and other Afghan urban centers. Influential figures in politics, business, security and the media saw it as much-needed change from President Barack Obama’s stopwatch approach to the 16-year-long U.S. involvement in the nation.
Afghanistan has always been the graveyard of empires, and it will be no different this time for the US. It is just that successive American administrations have refused to concede defeat, believing that by maintaining a presence on the ground they can safeguard America’s broader strategic interests.
A new report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) — a monitoring agency that oversees reconstruction projects and other activities in Afghanistan — has found that the security situation in the country continues to worsen as the Taliban manages to seize new territory, and civilian casualties and U.S military deaths rise ever more steeply. The report comes as the Pentagon and Coalition forces attempt to implement President Donald Trump’s strategy for the 16-year-old conflict.
There are several factors preventing the United States from successfully reaching its objectives in Afghanistan, but one that is consistently overlooked is the detrimental impact of identity politics on the nation’s governance. The Trump administration’s policy toward Afghanistan is primarily focused on three main points: increased American military presence and action against the Taliban, increased pressure on Pakistan to act against militant safe havens on the border, and an invitation for India to play a larger role. What this strategy lacks is an attempt to solidify the various ethnic Afghan factions, dominated by warlords-turned-politicians, into a cohesive and united front against the Taliban. However, this is much easier said than done.