By Stephen Tuttle | Sept. 2, 2017
Alexander the Great was the first, or at least the first for which there are good records.
He and his gang breezed into what is now Afghanistan back in 330 B.C. a scant 2,347 years ago. After two years of being constantly attacked by local tribes, Alexander was no longer that great and he and his army moved on. The pattern had begun.
Arab armies flowed in multiple times, starting in A.D. 667 and actually had some success before they were finally run out by angry locals. Genghis Khan showed up in 1219 and was gone before the end of 1221, unappreciative of the lack of hospitality.
The British, with empire-building on their minds and a steep learning curve, came and got beat up in 1839, again in 1878, and finally left for good in 1919. A young Winston Churchill famously said of their efforts in Afghanistan, “Financially it is ruinous. Morally it is wicked. Militarily it is an open question, and politically it is a blunder.”
Nobody listened to him. The Soviet Union came calling in 1979, ostensibly to put down a rebellion threatening to upend their puppet government. After a decade and more than 13,000 Soviet troops killed, another 35,000 wounded, and as many as 2,000,000 civilian casualties, they skulked away. It was a precipitating event in the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Surely we must have learned something from a 2,300-year history of failed invasions.
We did not.
We started well in 2001. Determined to flush out Osama bin Laden from wherever the Taliban were hiding him, we sent in a few dozen special operations personnel, created a partnership with tribal leaders we called the Northern Alliance, and sent the Taliban scurrying off into the hills.
(If you'd like a full account, read “The Horse Soldiers,” Traverse City author Doug Stanton's best-selling and exquisitely researched and written book on our early intervention there.)
Then we got stupid and sent in more and more troops. Now, 16 years later, it's the longest war in our history, with no end in sight. Our objectives are unclear — killing terrorists is a bit vague for a strategic goal — and no one seems to know what winning this war would look like.
We've already lost 2,300 men and women in uniform. According to Amnesty International, some 250,000 civilians have died. Depending on whose numbers you choose to believe, we've spent at least $800 billion and perhaps as much as $2 trillion. That doesn't even include the aftercare required for our 20,000 vets wounded there. Nor does it include the debt service; unlike other wars we raised taxes to finance, this one is being fought with borrowed money.
President Donald Trump advocated pulling out of Afghanistan during his campaign, and his reasoning was sound: Our national interest does not include being the Afghan defense force forever.
Unfortunately, he's now fallen into the same pit as Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama did before him. The military brass has convinced Trump that another surge, this time an additional 12,000 troops, will somehow turn the tide. We did not accomplish that when we had 100,000 troops there under Bush, nor when Obama sent in 30,000, but somehow, we now believe 12,000 is the magic number.
Oh, we'll temporarily chase off the Taliban and declare the surge a great success, as we have in the past. But there is an old adage in that part of the world, something along the lines of “sacrifice space for time.” The bad guys will return, and it should be the Afghans fighting them.
We've spent nearly $80 billion just training and equipping the Afghan army. Why, after 16 years, are they still not capable of fighting their own battles? Maybe because we'll do it for them and stoke their weak economy with American dollars at the same time. Their government is awash in corruption and malfeasance and, apparently, their military cannot be trained to defend its own country in 16 years of trying.
Our role, if any, should be to isolate the major terrorist groups in the borderland between Afghanistan and Pakistan with our absolute air superiority including drones and missile strikes. The boots on the ground should be the Afghan military.
The war in Afghanistan is draining our treasury, forcing multiple deployments of our troops, impairing our training, and putting enormous stress on a military still active in Iraq, Libya, and Syria, and prepping for North Korea.
We simply cannot be the peacekeepers-in-perpetuity in Afghanistan. Our very presence there is the greatest recruiting tool for the Taliban, al-Qaida, ISIS, and all their mutant offshoots. It is a regional problem, and the people of that region need to be the solution.
More of our blood and treasure isn't likely change much. It's time for us to come home.