Last August, President Donald Trump outlined his strategy to finally win the war in Afghanistan. You can read all about what he said back then here, and you can inform yourself about all the current developments, like Mike Pence’s “surprise visit,” here.
But don’t bother.
Just keep counting the hours until Christmas weekend and I can quickly explain to you the current terrible state of affairs, and why it’s going to get worse. Ready? Get a glass of eggnog and let’s begin.
Afghanistan is already this country’s longest war. It might have made sense to go into Afghanistan after 9/11, kill as many Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters as possible, and get the hell out. It did not make sense to do what we did, and have done since, namely to undertake a project of “nation building.”
Trump initially questioned why the U.S. was still in Afghanistan, but subsequently accelerated involvement. The U.S. Air Force “is currently on pace to triple the amount of bombs dropped in Afghanistan this year as compared to last year, NBC News recently reported.
Meanwhile, the Taliban has increased its control influence in Afghanistan, and now controls about 13 percent of the country’s districts. Trump also authorized an increase in the number of U.S. troops deployed to Afghanistan, which now number around 14,000, by another 3,900. According to this story in Vox — I know, citing it is always a risk — the Afghan military is battling nearly 20 terrorist groups in Afghanistan, including the Taliban, ISIS, and al-Qaeda.
And things are even worse than they appear, according to people I’ve spoken to who are familiar with the situation. Press accounts that talk about the strengthening Afghan army and its increased size and fighting ability are pure propaganda. (Maybe that’s why the Pentagon is now classifying key data about Afghan Army strength, according to this story.)
The Taliban are killing steady numbers of Afghan soldiers trained by the U.S. and many local soldiers are going AWOL. They see trainees get killed and take their uniforms off and return to their villages.
Then there’s a third category of people who buy safety for their families by killing (or attempting to kill) a few American soldiers when an opportunity arises. The attackers get killed but the Taliban will leave their families alone. “If a guy can make sure his family and kids won’t be killed by the Taliban, he’ll do it,” one source told me.
Trump needs a solution and, with the State of the Union address coming up, there’s nothing in sight. “Bush and Obama fucked it up and passed Trump a shit sandwich,” says a former CIA official. “It will be worse by spring and Trump will probably just pull out, and we will have wasted 17 years, we’ll will be back to where we were on September 10, 2001. It’s a self-perpetuating failure cycle.”
Was failure in Afghanistan foreseeable? Entirely. Here’s what I wrote in 2009, early in the Obama years, in a story headlined, “Afghanistan: The Quagmire Deepens.”
Last night’s speech on Afghanistan was typical Obama: instead of acting decisively, he splits the difference. The United States will send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan but with a timetable, sort of, for withdrawal…
We have no achievable military goals in Afghanistan other than temporarily slowing the Taliban’s “momentum,” and “nation-building” is a fool’s errand. Foreign powers have been trying to achieve that in Afghanistan for a long time and no one has succeeded yet. The idea that an Afghan national security force will be trained and ready to assume control of the country in 18 months is equally ludicrous, as is the idea that the U.S. is going to win “hearts and minds.”