Trump’s Afghanistan Gamble

Tuesday, 09 May 2017 03:32 Written by

The recent detonation of the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast to dislodge the Islamic State’s caves and tunnels in eastern Afghanistan did not change the reality of the lost opportunities, mistakes and wild pitches the United States has witnessed in the country since 2001, but it did make a difference. The strike was indeed the “right munition for the right target” and a tactical military success, but it was also a hopeless reminder of America’s unfinished war in Afghanistan. While the strike introduced a new symbol to fighting the Afghan war, it also suggested a search for a new and realistic Afghan war strategy.

New Afghan Surge Is a Terrible Idea

Monday, 08 May 2017 03:28 Written by

The convoy of MRAPs lumbered across the moonscape of central Helmand Province, the epicenter of America’s futile, half-century-long effort to remake Afghanistan in its own image. Generations of American developers and soldiers intended to transform this austere landscape into a breadbasket and bastion of democratic values. Instead, they created the world’s largest opium poppy plantation, the heartland of the thriving Taliban-led insurgency.

On April 13, the U.S. military dropped a huge bomb on caves and tunnels used by Islamic State fighters in eastern Afghanistan. The resulting blast reverberated several miles away, reportedly killed dozens of terrorists, and exposed the poverty of U.S. policy in Afghanistan.

Following the massive attack by US Forces on Afghanistan, using the MOAB or the Massive Ordnance Air Blast, US South Asia experts have been falling over themselves to “explain” the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in a bid to claim an influence on President Trump’s somewhat mercurial policy making fits. This included an op-ed by the head of an influential (but now sidelined) think tank, testimonies to House Committees dealing with terrorism, and seminars at various prestigious institutions. While there is general agreement on the difficulties in stabilizing Afghanistan and the dangers arising from the activities of various assorted terrorist groups operating in the area, there are some readily discernible “standardized” views of these experts and of others before them.

The US forces in Afghanistan dropped a Massive Ordinance Air Blast (MOAB), also dubbed the “mother of all bombs,” over eastern Afghanistan on April 13th. This was the first use of the most powerful nonnuclear ordinance in the US arsenal. The aim was to destroy the network of caves and tunnels used as safe havens by an Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) affiliated group. This terrorist group called Islamic State in Khorasan (IS-K) has established a foothold in Afghanistan since 2015. Its ranks have grown, initially from disaffected Taliban, but now includes terrorists from Uzbekistan, Pakistan and elsewhere. Their declarations and brutal actions make IS-K even more hardline and deadlier than the Taliban. IS-K and ISIS think that the Taliban are not hardcore enough, which is one source of tension and competition between the two groups. They have fought many battles for the control of territory in Afghanistan.

The U.S. bombing of an Islamic State stronghold in eastern Afghanistan two weeks ago, and Thursday’s news of two service members killed in an anti-Islamic State operation, are needed reminders of why we still have troops in Afghanistan. In mountains near those that once hid Osama bin Laden, a terrorist group that seeks to attack the United States is again seeking sanctuary.

When it comes to Afghanistan, I'm often torn between two conflicting points of view. I'm sure many of my fellow U.S. foreign affairs analysts are as well.

On the one hand, as a taxpaying citizen, I recoil at the thought of continuing to send weapons to a nation already awash in arms and afflicted by staggering levels of violence.

The use of a large conventional bomb against an Afghan tunnel complex occupied by Islamic State militants recently captured the media’s imagination. Talking heads rushed to discern the meaning of the decision. Was it President Donald Trump sending a message to North Korea? Was the president even involved in the decision? It turns out that he wasn’t.

The war in Afghanistan has been going on for such a long period of time that it’s almost become a ritual for a new administration to take a bottom-up, comprehensive look at America’s war strategy during its first two months on the job. The movie has been repetitively played over the last decade and a half: the generals running the war are ordered by the new president and his national security adviser to assess whether the plan is working; the generals conduct the review, which usually concludes with the commanders requesting more U.S. troops on the ground; and the administration (with varying degrees of resistance) eventually provides the commanders the authority and resources that they have forwarded to the White House. President Obama was a bit of anomaly in this regard. He did, after all, set a timeline for troop withdrawals that the Pentagon wasn’t especially pleased about. But even Obama authorized nearly fifty thousand additional American troops into the conflict during his first year in office.

A senior Iranian official says certain regional countries seek to transfer terrorists from Syria and Iraq to Afghanistan.

Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani made the remarks in a phone conversation with Hanif Atmar, national security adviser to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.