It’s Beyond Time To Get Out Of Afghanistan
American troops have been in Afghanistan for seventeen years now, it's time to bring them all home.
The U.S. led war in Afghanistan, which has been going on for seventeen years as of this past October, has mostly been out of the headlines recently, as has been the case for much of the time that the war has been going on. American troops are still there, though, and just recently three more of them were killed, leading some to wonder exactly why we’re still there:
GHAZNI, Afghanistan — American forces experienced the worst loss of life so far this year in Afghanistan when three soldiers were killed in a Taliban bombing on Tuesday. Three more soldiers and an American contractor were wounded.
The deaths took place when a roadside bomb went off near Ghazni City, in the southeastern province of the same name, killing Special Forces soldiers three months after they were sent to save that city from falling to the Taliban.
The Pentagon declared an end to American combat operations in Afghanistan in 2014, but since that time, the Taliban have expanded their reach, and the Americans have rejoined the fray.
A witness said the bomb in Ghazni went off as an American convoy passed on the highway. “The convoy set off a roadside mine, and there was smoke all over the place,” said the witness, Haji Abdulamin, a local resident. “The road was blocked, and a few minutes later helicopters landed and took the dead.”
Regular American combat operations in Afghanistan came to an end in 2014, but since that time the Taliban have greatly expanded their reach, controlling more territory — and killing more Afghan soldiers and police — than at any time since they were ousted from power in 2001.
In 2015, 10 American troops were killed; nine were killed in 2016; and 11 in 2017. In 2018 so far, 12 American soldiers have died in combat in Afghanistan along with four other coalition soldiers.
President Trump, in an interview with The Washington Post on Tuesday, said America is continuing its military presence in Afghanistan only because “experts” told him the United States needed to continue the fight.
Complicating things for the United States is the fact that not only are the Taliban proving hard to defeat, but al Qaeda is making a comeback too:
The Taliban is not the only concern for the American military. Another American soldier was killed just three days earlier as a result of a firefight with Al Qaeda, which had been considered all but wiped out in Afghanistan years ago, only to resurface suddenly in southwestern Nimroz Province.
The military said in a statement that the soldier, Sgt. Leandro A. S. Jasso, a 25-year-old Army Ranger from Washington State, was shot accidentally by a soldier from an Afghan “partner force.”
The American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Austin Scott Miller, expressed condolences to Sergeant Jasso’s family. “Sergeant Jasso was killed defending our nation, fighting Al Qaeda alongside our Afghan partners,” General Miller said.
According to the military’s statement on Sergeant Jasso’s death, he was killed “when the partnered force became engaged in a close-quarter battle during an assault on one of multiple barricaded Al Qaeda shooters.”
It was the first time in recent years that the presence of Al Qaeda was reported in that part of the country. Even officials from Nimroz Province seemed unaware of it. Gen. Abdul Raqib Mubariz, the police chief of that province, described the insurgents in the fight with the Americans as Taliban, and added that 22 militants were killed.
“It is not confirmed yet if they had any affiliation with Al Qaeda,” he said.
The Taliban insurgents maintain that they are no longer allied with remnants of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, although they were in the past. Al Qaeda’s numbers were believed to be very low, at least until recently, although insurgents from the separate Islamic State group have grown in numbers lately
Yesterday we learned that a fourth soldier who had been severely injured in the attack died as well:
WASHINGTON — A fourth Army soldier has died as a result of a roadside bomb in central Afghanistan last week, the Pentagon announced on Monday, marking the incident as the single largest loss of American life in the war since 2015.
Sgt. Jason M. McClary, 24, was in the armored vehicle that was hit by Taliban militants in Ghazni Province on Nov. 27. He died of his wounds in Landstuhl, Germany, on Sunday.
Two Defense Department officials said the attack was well coordinated. The bomb was manually detonated by a trigger man who targeted the American vehicle in the middle of the joint Afghan and American convoy.
The explosion flipped the soldiers’ mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle, killing Army Capt. Andrew Patrick Ross, 29; Sgt. 1st Class Eric Michael Emond, 39; and Air Force Staff Sgt. Dylan J. Elchin, 25.
Two other soldiers and a civilian contractor were wounded.
Captain Ross, the leader of the detachment, and Sergeant Emond were Green Berets and part of 3rd Special Forces Group, a unit that was sent to Ghazni after its provincial capital was overrun by Taliban militants in August and then retaken by American and Afghan troops. Sergeant Elchin was responsible for coordinating airstrikes.
Officials said Sergeant McClary, originally assigned to the 4th Infantry Division, was a driver and turret gunner for the Green Beret unit, part of what the Pentagon calls the “uplift program,” where conventional troops are assigned to Special Operations units for more support.
Thirteen Americans have died in combat in Afghanistan this year, up from 11 in 2017. The last time more than four Americans were killed in combat in a single incident was in 2015, when six Americans on patrol outside Bagram Air Base, the largest NATO base in Afghanistan, were attacked by a suicide bomber.
Given the U.S.’s history in Afghanistan over the past seventeen years, none of this should be a surprise. What started as a war to retaliate against al Qaeda for the September 11th attacks and to kill or capture its leaders soon morphed into a war against the former Taliban government and, then, direct involvement in what became a civil war between the government in Kabul and the Taliban, who fought alongside tribes in the north that it was able to either bribe or compel to provide fighters. As the war settled into that pattern, it largely disappeared from the front pages of American news coverage, overtaken instead by reporting from Iraq, which was a much more active combat zone that was far easier for networks to get reporters into. That doesn’t mean the war ended, of course, it continued largely in the shadows and soon earned the title of “America’s forgotten war.”
By 2008, Barack Obama was campaigning on the twin promises of finally ending American involvement in Iraq and stabilizing a situation in Afghanistan that was quickly spinning out of control as the Taliban were able to push back against government forces that proved to be less than adequate. This led to the troop surge of the early part of Obama’s first term and, for a time at least, it appeared that things were finally starting to stabilize in the country to the point where we could start pulling troops out. While the U.S. did begin to bring troops home and, so far at least, has not returned to the troop levels we saw immediately after the surge, things didn’t exactly go well as time went on.
In 2014, President Obama announced an agreement with the Afghan government that would result in a gradual draw down of American forces and end to the war from the American point of view. , most if not all American troops would be out of the country by the end of 2016, with the possibility left open that a small training force would be left behind. Almost immediately, though, the Obama Administration began pushing back the pace of that withdrawal to the point that it soon became clear that the promise of an end to the war by the end of 2016 was not going to happen. As was the case with the gradual upgrade in American involvement in the war against ISIS, President Obama gradually began slowing down the pace of the American withdrawal and walking back previous promises that we would be direct involvement in the war.
Consider this timeline:
- November 2014 – President Obama announces that American forces would continue to be involved in combat operations.
- March 2015 – President Obama announces that t the pace of withdrawal would be slowed even further on the occasion of a visit from newly elected Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
- April 2015 – Various news sites report that American forces were involved in more than just the counterterrorism operations that President Obama’s original plan had said they would be limited to.
- October 2015, President Obama announced that the withdrawal of U.S. forces would be halted due to the ongoing threat posed by a resurgent Taliban in several Afghan provinces.
- February 2016 — President Obama announces that that American troops would be deployed back into areas of Afghanistan where active combat was occurring
- In July 2016, President Obama announced that American troops would be deployed back into combat areas in the country, a reversal of previously announced policy that had stated that American forces would largely be restricted to advisory and training roles while the Afghan Army took over direct combat with the Taliban.
- August 2017 – President Trump announces “new” strategy in Afghanistan that will require increasing American troop presence by at least 5,000 troops from its current level of roughly 12,000 personnel.
All of this fits a pattern that I predicted would unfold in All of this sounds all too close to a pattern I predicted would unfold:
At this rate, it seem inevitable that we’ll reach a point some time this year when the President will announce, no doubt with frequent use of the word “regretfully” or some similar word, that the previous commitment to remove most American troops by December 31st cannot be met. That announcement will likely come either early in the year or after the election so as to minimize the political impact, but it is the inevitable next step in all of the delays to withdrawal that the Administration has announced over the past fourteen months. More likely than not, the President will simply punt the matter into the future, perhaps by delaying the “official” withdrawal date for six months or so, thus leaving the matter for the next President to decide. All of this will occur contemporaneously with likely future increases in American commitments in Iraq and Syria related to the fight against ISIS, thus leaving quite a lot on the plate for the next President that could very well significantly distract them from being about to carry out any domestic agenda.
That was written in February 2016, and so far I’ve been proven correct. This latest report is an indication that America’s Longest War is going to last even longer, that it will still be going on when voters head to the polls in November 2020, and that it will likely last long after that.
Quite honestly, this seems like a strategy that is guaranteed to fail. Yes, it’s true that we have ongoing military commitments that have lasted far longer than our involvement in Afghanistan has, but that misses the point. American forces have been in Europe, principally Germany, and the United Kingdom, since the end of World War Two, for example, but they haven’t been involved in anything approaching active combat for seventy-two years now. The same goes for the American forces in Japan, although our bases there did serve in a support role during the Korean War and, to some extent, during the Vietnam War. We’ve had troops in South Korea since the armistice was signed in 1953, but again there hasn’t been anything approaching a combat situation there in sixty-four years. The same is true about commitments elsewhere in the world for the most part. American forces in Afghanistan, though, have been involved in combat in some form or another on a non-stop basis for sixteen years, and that doesn’t even count the activity that may have been engaged in by Special Forces or CIA assets during the Soviet occupation and the years leading up to the September 11th attacks. And it looks like this status will continue to be the case for the foreseeable future. Doesn’t there come a time when we just have to tell the Afghans that we can’t do this anymore and they’re going to have to learn to either resolve their differences through negotiation or handle this civil war on their own?
It seems obvious to me that the answer to that question is yes, and that the time to tell the Afghans that their future is in their own hands is now. Any more American or allied deaths in Afghanistan are utterly unnecessary casualties in a war we should have concluded years ago.
Stephen Green has similar comments at Vodkapundit:
We aren’t a colonial power, although colonialism is exactly what we’ve been trying to do in Afghanistan since 2002 — remake it in something like our image. Even worse, Afghanistan is not a colonizable country*. At least, not without wanton killing and destruction that would make Curtis LeMay blanch.
So it’s been time to leave for a long time already.
And if the Taliban comes back and welcomes in ISIS or al Qaeda? Well, what of it? In 2001 we showed how to topple a government there, on the cheap, in six weeks or less — or your next invasion is free!
And the “next invasion” wouldn’t have been a joke.
If necessary, we could have replayed something like the 2001 invasion a half-dozen times by now, for a fraction of what we’ve spent in blood and treasure on our haphazard and doomed attempt at semi-colonization.
Best of all, we wouldn’t have poured untold hundreds of billions of dollars into a corrupt and useless government — which only incentivizes more bad behavior. Why make peace, or even govern decently, when the other guy keeps giving you money not to?
A sane Afghan policy would have consisted of kicking in the door, killing a bunch of bad guys, and then skedaddling until and unless we have to do it again. Eventually, the Afghans would figure out this terrorist-harboring stuff doesn’t pay. What has paid for their elites, quite handsomely, is our perennial occupation.
All of this has been quite obvious for years now, of course, and yet we continue to pour resources and men into an occupation that is accomplishing absolutely nothing for us. As Green says, it’s time to pack our bags and go home.