It is only a short drive into a side valley just off the busy main road between Jalalabad and Asadabad, the capitals of Afghanistan’s eastern provinces of Nangarhar and Kunar. The narrow dusty road passes fields of golden blades of wheat that slightly sway in the light breeze. Beyond the fields and the scattered verdant trees, barren craggy hills frame the valley called Dara-i Mazor in Kunar’s district of Nurgal. Across the small river, some of the traditional mud houses resemble tiny bulky castles, hinting at the fact that Afghanistan’s violent past dates much further back than the U.S. or Soviet-led invasions.
Sixteen years have passed and we are still fighting a war in Afghanistan which is not only the longest in American history (at a cost approaching one trillion and the blood of thousands of brave soldiers), but one which is morally corrupting from which there seems to be no exit with any gratification but shame. It was necessary to invade Afghanistan to destroy al-Qaeda following 9/11, but once it was defeated we should have departed, leaving behind some residual forces to clean up the mess. Instead, we decided to introduce democracy, a totally alien concept to a land historically governed by tribes, and which no foreign power has ever been able to govern or fully conquer for long.
Here’s a crazy idea floating around Washington these days, outlandish even by today’s outlandish standards: The United States should hire a mercenary army to “fix” Afghanistan, a country where we’ve been at war since 2001, spending billions along the way. The big idea here is that they could extricate U.S. soldiers from this quagmire, and somehow solve it.
Afghanistan has suffered through a harrowing summer, even by the nightmarish standards of a country convulsed by conflict for decades.
On May 31, a truck bomb exploded in Kabul’s heavily fortified diplomatic enclave, killing more than 150 people. On June 2, Afghans, furious about their government’s failure to provide security, took to the streets of Kabul. Security forces cracked down, killing at least five people. One of them was the son of the deputy leader of Afghanistan’s Senate. His funeral the next day, attended by top Afghan political leaders, was rocked by three explosions that killed at least twenty people.
In 2068, some 50 years from now, will American soldiers still be dying in Afghanistan?
“The problem is,” argues Leon Panetta, the former Defense Secretary and CIA Director under President Obama, “you cannot allow Afghanistan to fail and become a safe haven for al-Qaida and for terrorism more broadly to attack our country.”
The New York Times reported July 10 on meetings between President Trump, his top advisers and private military and security company (PMSC) magnates, Erik Prince (founder of Blackwater) and Stephen A. Feinberg (owner of DynCorp International) to discuss plans for having contractors take over U.S. operations in Afghanistan. The plans are said to hew closely to the Wall Street Journal op-ed Erik Prince published in June proposing a “MacArthur solution” to Afghanistan. Like the historical analogy it borrows from, the plan proposes a U.S. viceroy, but unlike MacArthur, the viceroy would carry out his plans with the help of a private army.
Afghanistan is in the process of limiting Pakistan’s veto options on transportation of goods and looking at other routes being a landlocked country.
Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani visited Turkmenistan on July 3 upon invitation by President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov. Oguzkhan Palace complex in Turkmenistan hosted the high-level talks.
With the Trump administration considering how to break the stalemate between Taliban-allied groups and the government of Afghanistan, terrorists detonated a car bomb in Kabul on May 31, killing more than 150. Afghan intelligence blamed the violence on Haqqani, a terror network with close ties to the Taliban, al Qaeda and Pakistan’s spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence. The attack demonstrates that Washington needs to focus on the threat from Haqqani, which has also consolidated militant factions across strategic regions of the war zone.
“None of us would say that we are on a course to success here in Afghanistan,” said Senator John McCain, speaking for a five-member bipartisan Senate delegation at a Kabul press briefing on July 4. The senators didn’t have to skip the July 4 parades to discover that. The United States continues its longest war–now in its 16th year–without a clue about how to win or how to get out. President Trump shows no sign of changing course: At the end of this month, he is slated to sign off on sending a few thousand more troops to Afghanistan.