According to General Joseph Votel, Commander of U.S. Central Command, several thousand more US troops will likely be sent to Afghanistan in an attempt to stabilize Afghan governmental forces and to halt, and eventually reverse, recent Taliban gains.
Basically, the US is rewarding Afghan governmental forces for failure. The more they fail, the more aid the US sends in the form of money, weaponry, and troops. Naturally, warrior-corporations (among others) profit from this, so even though the Afghan war itself is unwinnable (you can’t win someone else’s civil war), someone always wins in the sense of making loads of money.
The motto for the US war in Afghanistan might go something like this: If at first you succeed (in defeating the Taliban in 2001), fail and fail again by overstaying your welcome and flailing around in a country that has a well-deserved reputation as “the graveyard of empires.”
There are several reasons why US folly in Afghanistan persists. First, there’s our national conviction that all wars must be won, else American credibility will be irreparably damaged. We’d rather persist in a losing cause than to admit defeat and withdraw. Smart, right?
Second is the domestic political scene. Afghanistan is already being advertised (by the New York Times, no less) as “Trump’s war.” Do you think “winner” Trump wants to be seen as backing away from a fight?
Third is the men in charge of the fight and how they see the war. Trump’s generals and top civilian advisers don’t see the Afghan war in terms of Afghanistan; they see it in terms of themselves and their global war on radical Islamic terrorism. They can’t be seen as “losing” in that global war, nor can they see themselves as lacking in toughness (especially when compared to the Obama administration), so queue up more troop deployments and future mission creep.
Parallels to Vietnam in the 1960s are immediate and telling. The refusal to admit defeat. Domestic politics. War in the name of containing a global enemy, whether it’s called communism or terrorism. Nowadays, since there’s no military draft and relatively few US troops are being killed and wounded, there’s little opposition to the Afghan war in the US Lacking an opposition movement like the one the US experienced during the Vietnam War, the Afghan war may well continue for generations, sold as it has been as a critical “platform” in the war on terror.
Two comments. First, we’ll never win the war in Afghanistan because that’s the only way we understand the country and its peoples: as a war. Second, as the saying goes in Afghanistan, the US has the watches, but the Taliban has the time. Sure, we have all the fancy technology, all the force multipliers, but all the Taliban (and other “insurgent” forces) has to do is to survive, biding its time (for generations, if necessary) until Americans finally see the light at the end of their own tunnel and leave.
It’s been sixteen years and counting, but we still don’t see the light. Maybe in another sixteen years?
William J. Astore is a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF). He taught history for fifteen years at military and civilian schools and blogs at Bracing Views. He can be reached at email@example.com. Reprinted from Bracing Views with the author’s permission.