FeaturedInternationalVolume 14 Issue # 04

US cyclical blunders in Afghanistan

The Taliban control over 60pc of Afghanistan and they have intensified their attacks in recent weeks after negotiations for a political settlement are stuck over the issue of maintenance of U.S. military bases in the country. Almost 20,000 people have died in the country in 2018 alone. The Afghan war has cost the US $840 billion by the end of 2017, and a total of 2,416 American lives have been lost, but still there is no light at the end of the blood-splattered tunnel.


Voices have also started growing in the US to end the 17-year-old war, which has no plausible theory of success to justify additional costs and more killings in Afghanistan. Supporters of the war in the US claim that its political purpose is to bring the Taliban to the bargaining table. The Taliban want U.S. departure; the U.S. wants Taliban capitulation. There is no common ground. The sad political purpose of endless U.S. military involvement is for leaders to be seen trying to prevent terrorists from once again launching international attacks out of Afghanistan. But the U.S. presence in Afghanistan cannot prevent future terrorist outrages, experts say. However, the U.S. again has blamed Pakistan for its failure in Afghanistan instead of accepting the ground realities. In its recent report, the U.S. State Department accepted that the security situation in Afghanistan continued to worsen as a result of coordinated attacks by the Taliban, including the group’s affiliated Haqqani network, but some of the attacks were planned and launched from safe havens in Pakistan, a source of continuing irritation in relations between Washington and Islamabad.


Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, Afghanistan has never been as insecure as it is now, noted the USA Today. The Taliban control more territory than at any point since the removal of their regime 17 years ago. The Afghan war has already become the longest war in US history. With the passage of time, the conflict has not only become more intense – it has also become more complicated. The attacks are becoming bigger, more frequent, more widespread and much deadlier. “It is time for this war in Afghanistan to end,” Gen. John Nicholson said as he relinquished command of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Though Nicholson directed his war-ending advice at the Taliban, and reiterated U.S. commitment to the fight, he offered no theory of victory. The Taliban are growing in strength as the government’s hold on the country weakens. They thrive on fighting. The Islamic State, more extreme than al-Qaeda and a rival to the Taliban, has a foothold. “The United States should withdraw. We should tell the Taliban that our dispute with them is over, so long as they do not host international terrorists. If they are complicit in terror, the U.S. will retaliate. We could continue to provide material support for the Afghan government so long as leaders seem able to use it to some purpose. Perhaps they can make a deal with their Taliban cousins, even if we can’t,” it said in a report.


According to The Week magazine, the war has settled into grimly familiar patterns large and small. On a weekly and monthly level, the same headlines roll in again and again: A suicide bomber blows up a market, mosque, or other public venue, and dozens of innocents die. A coalition soldier is killed and a few more wounded. A high-ranking Islamic State, al Qaeda, Taliban, or other insurgency leader dies, and his role is soon refilled, hydra-like, by a new generation of radical. Then there are patterns on a larger scale. Three presidential administrations from two political parties have overseen five troop surges, none of which has successfully broken the stalemate fight that has claimed tens of thousands of American and Afghan lives and has cost the US trillions in taxpayer dollars. “We cycle through commanders, too. Gen. John Nicholson handed off leadership of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission and U.S. forces in Afghanistan to Gen. Austin Miller. Carefully unmentioned in the Defense Department press release on the changeover is the fact that Miller is the 18th officer to fill the role, succeeding Nicholson and the 16 commanders of the previous NATO mission in Afghanistan,” it noted.


War critics say the Pentagon has gone through several periods of trying to sell the American public on the idea that the war isn’t a disastrous failure. This is increasingly difficult, because the war is going really badly. But lying works sometimes, and the Pentagon has made that standard operating procedure in Afghanistan. The Pentagon estimates on the war are often exaggerated, and many times simply fabricated outright. The Pentagon estimates that the Taliban controls or contests 44pc of the country. Analysts say the real figure is about 61pc. Many districts the US does not consider “contested” have the Afghan government controlling the capital and little else. U.S. figures show Afghanistan having 314,000 troops, and the Taliban having about 25,000. Afghan officials say the Taliban is actually more like 77,000, while the estimate of Afghan forces ignores that about a third of them are “ghost” soldiers who exist only on paper.


Hopes for peace talks received a boost after an unprecedented ceasefire in June this year, on Eid-ul-Fitr, led to several days of almost calm in the otherwise volatile country. But violence picked up pace after the ceasefire was over, with the Taliban launching major offensives and putting Afghan security forces under severe pressure. One reason for the increase in violence was that the Taliban wanted to prove that a fatwa by up to 2,000 Muslim scholars outlawing suicide bombings and denouncing Taliban violence had no impact on the morale of their cadre. Others believe the Taliban want to strengthen their position before possible negotiations with the U.S. It has been a year since President Trump unveiled a new strategy for Afghanistan, vowing that the US would “fight to win”. The Trump administration put pressure on the Taliban in four ways to break the stalemate, roll back the group and eventually force them to sit down for talks with the Afghan government. Despite the bombing of drug labs, the Taliban don’t appear to be facing a financial crisis. In fact, evidence on the ground suggests their wealth has grown.


It is a fact that, despite the aggressive US military campaign, no one side can win the war. However, the US cannot fight it for years and decades to come. It must realize that the conflict in Afghanistan cannot be solved by military means alone. Influenced by India, the US has bypassed Pakistan in its efforts for talks with the Taliban. It should engage all political forces and fighters in Afghanistan and regional powers, including Pakistan and China, for a permanent solution to the issue.