Nearly 16 years after the September 11 terrorist attacks, the United States is nearing a seminal moment in its involvement in Afghanistan, as President Donald Trump gathers at Camp David today with his national-security team to determine what to do about the deteriorating stalemate he inherited in South Asia.
A country with a population of around approximately 30 million people, Afghanistan is a landlocked country which is situated in South Asia and is officially regarded as an Islamic state. In the year 2001, the Taliban regime was overthrown and was replaced by a new government under President Hamid Karzai. After September 11, 2001, the United States (US) invaded Afghanistan to track Al-Qaida operatives and topple the Taliban regime.
In recent weeks, two major players in the private security industry proposed that Trump administration officials privatize U.S. military operations in Afghanistan to an unprecedented degree. Erik Prince, former owner of the now-defunct firm Blackwater Worldwide, proposed a scheme that would entail the appointment of a viceroy to oversee operations in Afghanistan, and the use of “private military units” to fill in gaps left by departing U.S. troops. Meanwhile, Stephen Feinberg—owner of DynCorp International, which holds numerous major U.S. government security contracts at present—similarly proposed that the Trump administration privatize the military force in Afghanistan, though his conceptualization of such a force calls for it to be placed under CIA control.
In theory, U.S. strategy in Afghanistan has been to train an Afghan army that can fight al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and now the Islamic State — and then largely to withdraw. After 16 years, it’s not surprising that many people think that strategy has failed. In fact, it hasn’t really been tried.
Afghanistan is now President Donald Trump’s war, but it’s wider than just that country.
Having refused to accept a strategy and operational plan presented to him last month by Defense Secretary James Mattis, Joint Chiefs Chairman Joseph Dunford, as well as National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, all of whom have served in Afghanistan, Trump is currently described as looking for a quicker way to end U.S. involvement in what has been nearly 16 years of fighting.
The foreign policy of the Trump administration has differed little from the foreign policy of previous administrations. Indeed, there is a large gap between the rhetoric before Donald Trump’s election and what has actually happened since he took office. But this should be expected. Presidents aren’t kings. The founders created a system designed to limit the president’s ability to make radical shifts.
The US is in the process of hammering out a cohesive Afghanistan policy. Thanks to Pakistan’s double game Washington’s sixteen years in Afghanistan has been reduced to sheer waste sans proportionate achievement. Of course today’s forward looking democratic Afghanistan has partly replaced the primitive Mullah controlled Afghan society which can be regarded as the greatest achievement of US. Afghanistan has definitely changed for good but Washington wanted much more, hence the urgency for review.
What the heck are we doing in Afghanistan right now?
I ask this very important question because President Donald Trump’s senior advisers are proposing sending thousands of additional US troops there so they can “start winning” again, according to one official who spoke with The Washington Post.
That would be great if the word “winning” could be defined.
Let’s put this into perspective: Since October 2001, the United States has had a military presence in Afghanistan.
Over nearly 16 years of war, more than 2,200 service members have been killed, and more than 20,000 have been wounded. We have spent almost $1 trillion there.
We have paid a heavy price for a loosely defined end.
After 9/11, we went into Afghanistan to root out Al Qaeda and the Taliban so we could deny them a safe haven. But in 2004, when I was on the ground as a US Marine, the job I was given was a simpler one: drive around in the hope you get shot at. That’s how we found the enemy.
Fortunately, Trump has been deeply skeptical of his top military advisors — and that’s actually a good thing. As I expressed recently on Twitter, the generals will give you rosy assessments; the sergeants will give you the truth.
A reality check
For years, we have been offered rosy assessments from the military’s top commanders in Afghanistan. Gen. John Abizaid said in 2005 that “interesting progress” had been made. Gen. Dan McNeill said in 2007 that we were making “significant progress.” And Gen. David Petraeus highlighted the progress made in 2010.
In 2013, Gen. John Allen said we were “on the road to winning” in Afghanistan.
Reality check: We’re not. And we probably never will be. The war in Afghanistan has been a lost cause for a long time.