America remains at war in Afghanistan. After almost 15 years it’s time to bring the last troops home.
In October 2001 George W. Bush sent U.S. forces to destroy Osama bin-Laden’s al-Qaeda terrorist organization and oust the Taliban government which hosted him. Washington then shifted to nation-building.
The 9800-man American contingent was to have been cut in half this year and reduced to 1000 early next year. But last October the administration decided to slow the planned withdrawal. The total now will drop to 5500 in 2017.
Although U.S. participation in combat has formally ended, American troops remain on call. Proposals abound for rejoining the war. For instance, Gen. John F. Campbell, then-U.S. commander in Afghanistan, urged the administration to allow American troops to attack the Taliban even if it did not threaten allied forces and use air support on behalf of Afghan forces until Kabul established its own air force.
In 2012 Afghanistan became America’s longest military conflict, passing the Vietnam War. What is Washington doing there?
There’s an air of desperation about Kabul. James R. Clapper, director of National Intelligence, cited the “serious risk of a political breakdown” in Afghanistan.
The authorities remain generally incompetent, ineffective, and corrupt. Transparency International ranks the country as 166 out of 168 in corruption. There is little tangible to show for the more than $100 billion in aid provided over the last decade.
The economy is crashing as the flow of foreign money ebbs. Only poppy production remains a growth industry.
Since the bulk of foreign troops came home in 2014 fighting has surged. Government forces are on the defensive and the Taliban is believed to hold more territory than at any other time since America’s intervention. Even in Kabul Westerners rarely leave their secure compounds as attacks have become common. Civilian casualties are way up.
Unfortunately, hope for a political settlement has gone a glimmering. The chief threat probably is not a complete Taliban triumph. More likely is a fractured land with a multi-sided conflict continuing for years. That would be a tragedy, but wouldn’t be much different than today.
Former US commander David Petraeus and Brookings Institution’s Michael O’Hanlon claimed that a continued military presence is necessary because Afghanistan is “effectively the eastern bulwark in our broader Middle East fight against extremist forces.” Yet America’s Afghan presence has not deterred Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State from operating in Afghanistan.
Al-Qaeda as well as the Taliban has found sanctuary in Pakistan, and the Islamic State could do so as well. Moreover, al-Qaeda has metastasized in Yemen and ISIL has grabbed sections of Iraq, Libya, and Syria.
As I point out in Business Insider: “Afghanistan is a tragedy. But Washington cannot fix Afghanistan. The U.S. cannot afford the human and financial cost of endless war. It’s well past time to bring home America’s military personnel.”