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Time for U.S. To Leave Afghanistan

America’s longest war continues. The U.S. military has been fighting in Central Asia for more than 15 years. To what end? 

When asked at a recent hearing whether the U.S. was winning, Gen. John Nicholson, commander of US forces in Afghanistan, said neither. David Adesnik of the Foreign Policy Initiative complained that this was “an Afghanistanoptimistic assessment given that the Afghan military is both rapidly losing control of its territory and suffering unprecedented casualties.” 

It is time for Washington to get out entirely. 

While a punitive expedition was justified in 2001 to target the terrorist group al-Qaeda and overthrow the Taliban regime for hosting terrorist training camps, President George W. Bush turned the mission into a nation-building extravaganza. Today there are still roughly 8400 U.S. military personnel—along with several thousand allied troops—on station in the Central Asian country. 

Donald Trump long spoke sense about Afghanistan. In 2012 he termed the conflict “a complete and total disaster” and encouraged the U.S. to “get out of Afghanistan. We’ve wasted billion and billions of dollars and more importantly thousands of lives.” 

However, President Trump is now talking Neocon-lite. He plans to stay in Afghanistan and he told Afghan President Ashraf Ghani he would “continue to support Afghanistan security.” 

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko, or SIGAR, issued two reports in January, identifying the most serious problems including insecurity, corruption, unsustainability, drugs, and management. He painted an ugly picture. 

Overall the U.S. has poured more than $800 billion and 6000 lives, counting contractors, into the war. Set aside the costs of combat. The U.S. has spent $117.3 billion on relief and “reconstruction,” that is, attempting to create a functioning state in Afghanistan. 

Alas, Afghanistan’s development, stated SIGAR, “remains tenuous and incomplete.” Overall, Afghan public confidence continues to fall. 

Afghanistan came in at 111 of 113 in last year’s World Justice Project survey on the Rule of Law Index. The country rated particularly poorly on corruption and criminal justice. 

Moreover, warned SIGAR, “Current economic growth remains far below what is necessary to increase employment and improve living standards.” In particular, “per capita GDP is falling, employment opportunities are limited, and the budget is pressured.” 

Reported SIGAR: “Donor countries were expected to finance approximately 69 percent of Afghanistan’s $6.5 billion 2016 national budget.” Yet the government is almost singularly unable to competently manage large aid transfers. 

SIGAR explained that “the questionable capabilities of the Afghan security forces and pervasive corruption are the most critical [problem]. Without capable security forces, Afghanistan will never be able to stand on its own.” 

Last year, reported SIGAR, “Armed clashes reached their highest level since UN reporting began in 2007, and marked a 22 percent increase over the same period in 2015.” The government controls only 57.2 percent of the country’s districts. The number under Kabul’s control is down 6.2 percent from just August and almost 15 percent from November 2015. 

Moreover, explained SIGAR, “The numbers of the Afghan security forces are decreasing, while both casualties and the number of districts under insurgent control or influence are increasing.” The inspector general also reported that “the inability of ANDSF leaders across the forces to effectively command and control operations, coupled with poor discipline of junior leaders in some units, hinders effectiveness in nearly every ministry functional and ANDSF capability area.”  

Why should the U.S. continue such a futile, costly quest? Gen. Nicholson argued to save the U.S. homeland from terrorist attack. 

However, there is no dearth of havens for terrorists, including neighboring Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden resided. Washington responded by killing him, not invading and occupying Pakistan. 

In fact, the Taliban apparently was not happy with their guest, Osama bin Laden, for bringing the wrath of the U.S. down upon them. If victorious, the movement would not want to face U.S. intervention a second time. 

Moreover, war is the perfect environment for terrorist groups. Gen. Nicholson testified that Afghanistan “has the greatest concentration of terrorist organizations in the world.” After more than 15 years of U.S. military action. 

Otherwise the Taliban is of little concern to America. Of course, it would be wonderful if the U.S. could create a liberal future for Afghans who desire to escape the past. But that task is beyond Washington’s capabilities and cannot justify expending more American lives and monies. 

President Donald Trump ran against the brain-dead status quo in Washington. His administration should wind up America’s longest war.

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The heartland of Afghanistan, its countryside, is essentially governed by the Afghan way, Pashtunwali. Best described by Professor Gholam H. Vafai in 1988:
"... this is a severe code for men who of necessity live under harsh
circumstances. Honor and hospitality, hostility and ambush go together
in the minds of many Afghans. the values of the Pashtun and the Muslim
religion, modified b local custom, influence in varying degrees the lives
of all Afghan ethnic groups."
Afghanistan's capital, Kabul, is little more than a relatively recent Potemkin structure populated by an upper class, foreign dignitaries and businessmen. Kabul exists as the interface between Afghanistan and the outside world. That it is representative of the Afghan nation as a whole is a dangerous assumption.
We seem limitless in our desire to prolong an exercise in futility. Once we reduce our footprint in Afghanistan, the tortuous path to what is normal in Afghanistan can be expected.
A component of that path will consist of fending off the convergence of parties lusting to feast on what Amir Abdur Rahman Khan termed the 'lamb.' We must not be lulled into a rescue mission: the Afghans have to stand on their own and make their own nation in their own way. The only proviso for our leaving should be the an agreement that we can precision bomb ISIL, al Qaeda, and the affiliates of these and related groups resident or active in Afghanistan. A similar agreement should also be made with Pakistan particularly with regard to the Pakhtunkwa region.
Our satellite and communication intercept capabilities will suffice to guide this post withdrawal activity
There are several scenarios for our withdrawal. Perhaps the most practical possibility is to simply complete our existing military equipment obligations to and on behalf of ANDSF. Integral to this process is the preparation of a cadre of maintenance personnel and the provision spares for five years. With that, we should withdraw and let the Afghans determine their own future.
I've been on and out of Afghanistan since 1962 and spent significant time living in the Afghan countryside.
de khoda-i pamon