American troops have been fighting a war in Afghanistan since 2001. We have spent nearly a trillion dollars there; and 2,344 U.S. service members have died and nearly 20,000 have been wounded. There is no end in sight and no defined goal for military action. President Trump has just agreed to increase troop levels, yet again.
Much of the country is once more under the control of the Taliban, as it was in 2001. The government of Afghanistan exists only because of American funding, American protection and American arms. Corruption is widespread. The country is still the world’s largest producer of opium. The United States is also paying through the nose hundreds of millions of dollars to the Pakistani government for the right to transit supplies into landlocked Afghanistan – even though the Pakistanis are covertly supporting the Taliban and other Islamist groups and providing shelter to their leaders.
Our deluded President thinks that if only we can kill enough terrorists, he can proclaim victory and leave. The Soviet Union, the British and several other occupying forces over the centuries had this same belief. It never worked out that way for any of them. All were defeated by the indigenous tribes and left with their tails between their legs.
I have been watching Ken Burn’s epic and brilliant documentary, The Vietnam War, now streaming on PBS. Two things stand out from the fog of that war for me.
First, the generals in the Pentagon and in the field went on arguing that if only they had more men, more equipment, more weapons and more latitude to expand operations, they would defeat North Vietnam and the Vietcong – right up until the day the U. S. Embassy in Saigon was being evacuated by helicopter. Second, there was a mass movement of millions of people in the United States protesting against the war and those protests inspired politicians such as Senators Gene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy speaking out against the war and demanding its end.
What will it take for our current generals and Pentagon brass to admit that the Afghan war is unwinnable? For years we have been told of victories and the control we now have over this or that province, only to hear a few weeks later that insurgents now have re-taken these places. The fact that the President is now surrounded by three generals – Kelly, Mattis and McMaster – seems to make it very unlikely that he will hear advice about withdrawing.
And what will it take for all of us, the public, to stand up, as we did in the Vietnam war, and demand an end to the needless sacrifice of our troops and the mass killings of Afghan civilians? Perhaps because our armed forces are now volunteers and not young men and women being drafted against their will we can turn our heads and look the other way. But this endless war is being fought in our name. Our Veterans Hospitals are being filled with the wounded. Those hundreds of millions of dollars we spend each year for nothing could be used for our own health care systems or to rebuild our national infrastructure.
Afghanistan has to work out its own destiny. It has borders with Iran, Pakistan, China and three former Soviet republics. Each of these states has a vested interest in not allowing the United States to control their neighboring country. Afghanistan is a failed state.
Our mission has also failed. It is time to pull the plug and withdraw.