By John Ubaldi–To view unadbridged version go to In Homeland Security News—
Last month the United States passed a dubious missed milestone, as the war in Afghanistan has now entered its seventeenth year, after thousands of casualties and expenditures of hundreds of billions of dollars, the U.S still doesn’t have an effective strategy for bringing peace to this troubled country.
In a quarterly report for the US Congress, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said, “The Taliban now controls more territory than at any time since 2001.”
Is it Time to Pullout of Afghanistan?
Debate has begun in the United States that it’s time to end America’s longest war and bring the troops home, but what would withdrawal look like and what impact would it have on Afghanistan and the region?
One only has to view it through the prism of the U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, which precipitated the rise of the Islamic State from which the U.S. is still engaged in, without a political settlement in Afghanistan, there would be serious risk of duplicating the mistakes made in Iraq.
U.S. Has Never Had One Strategy for Afghanistan
From the onset America has tried a variety of different strategies, first beginning with a lite presence utilizing U.S. special operations forces and CIA paramilitary units, backed up by air power. Initially these forces worked with Afghan tribes, sub-tribes, and militia forces from the Northern Alliance that led to the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, and the beginning of efforts to stabilize the country.
Since 2001, U.S. efforts then shifted to a “heavy footprint,” which would eventually culminate in the deployment of over 100,000 American troops, supplemented by 40,000 NATO troops and other foreign forces to the region.
The current effort by the United States has again shifted back to the lite footprint approach, but now the Taliban has direct control or influence over 14% of the Afghan population. U.S. forces that once were able to move freely around the major cities in Afghanistan can only move by helicopter because of insurgent attacks.
Why the U.S. has Never Been Successful in Afghanistan
There are many reasons why the U.S. has been unsuccessful in defeating the Taliban, as Seth Jones Senior Military Analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies highlights as the challenges faced;
- A collective failure to integrate the Taliban into Afghan society beginning in 2001, when Taliban leaders were hunted down instead of being co-opted;
- A weak and ineffective Afghan government, which has been plagued by corruption and inefficiency;
- A mistaken U.S. and Western focus on largely building a top-down government in Kabul, rather than also working at the grass-roots level and supporting local communities and tribes;
- A U.S. and Western mistaken decision to try to win the war for Afghans by deploying large numbers of Western military forces and flooding Afghanistan with large amounts of assistance, which fueled corruption;
- The Taliban’s sanctuary in Pakistan and support from Pakistan’s spy agency, the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which allowed senior Taliban leaders to run the war in relative security.
The perils of Withdrawing from Afghanistan
Many advocate withdrawing from Afghanistan, but Jones mentions this has serious significant risks, the first one being a U.S. exit would trigger the departure of NATO and other foreign forces which would lead to the collapse of the Afghan regime. This scenario would precipitate a mass exodus of Afghans trying to flee the country; one only has to remember Saigon in 1975.
With the U.S. gone the Taliban with support from Pakistan, and limited assistance emanating from Russia and Iran would then seize all the major cities in the country that it presently doesn’t control.
Secondly, by a precipitous exit by the U.S. it would only embolden the Taliban-led insurgency thus allowing other trans-national terror organizations such as the Islamic State Khorasan (the Islamic State’s local province), al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (al-Qaeda’s local affiliate), and increase the Haqqani Network and other terror groups to operate inside the country.
All most all of these terror organizations have established themselves inside Afghanistan from which they have launched attacks against the United States and our allies. One only has to remember the last time the U.S. left the region after the Russian pull out from Afghanistan in 1989, a civil war ensued giving rise to the Taliban thus allowing al-Qaeda to operate on its territory from which it planned and executed the 9/11 terror attack.
U.S. Withdrawal would Signal a Terrorist Victory
A U.S. withdrawal would be seen as a Taliban victory and be viewed by Salafi-jihadist groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State as a triumphant victory over the United States. History remembers that once Russia withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden used this as a recruitment tool stating his terror organization defeated the former Soviet Union, his belief it was the harder of the two superpowers, the weaker one being the United States.
Finally, for those advocating human rights, this would severely cripple any semblance of woman’s rights, or any other form, as the Taliban would plunge the country back to the Stone Age and further cement regional instability between India and Pakistan which both possessing nuclear weapons, and both support sub-state militias, and insurgent groups. In 1999, India and Pakistan engaged in an armed conflict in the Kargil district in Kashmir nearly leading to nuclear war between the two belligerent nations.
Since the war in Afghanistan began in 2001, three different presidential administrations have never fully understood the military philosophy articulated by Carl von Clausewitz in his famous book, “On War” regarding military strategy.
Clausewitz articulated that “War is not merely an act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse, carried on with other means.” The U.S. has failed under three presidential administrations to link the strategy to the political aims it is trying to achieve, until national security strategists understand the complexities most notably Pakistan equation to the Afghan conflict America will continue to muddle along or until the nation finally has enough and extract itself form the region.
Presently how this ends is anyone’s guess, as history will be the final arbitrator how the conflict ends, but so far U.S. leaders have failed to understand the history of this region.