More war – that’s the news from Donald Trump. But not against North Korea. No, the American president announced continued US fighting in Afghanistan. After 16 years and little progress to show, it’s time to admit the war seemed like a good idea at the time, but clearly the Americans should now cut their losses.
Sixteen years is a long time to be at war, especially when you consider the First and Second World Wars were four and six years long respectively. And at least the outcome was measurable. The world of 1939 was not the world of 1945. The same can’t be said of Afghanistan. The Taliban still control parts of the country.
You’ll recall the war started in response to the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001. The US demanded the Taliban government hand over Osama bin Laden, but the Taliban asked for evidence he was responsible for the attacks on the Twin Towers. Not to be burdened by anything as pesky as evidence, the Americans simply invaded the country in October of 2001 and have been there ever since, making the War in Afghanistan the longest military conflict in US history.
Part of the logic of invading the country was to draw terrorists from across the Middle East and to wipe them out. I suspect few officials in Washington bothered to consider how the Afghan civilians would feel about having their country used as a war zone by non-citizens; so much for America being a democracy. Your average Afghan was probably more than a little war weary after the 10-year Soviet invasion that ended in 1989. To make matters worse, the country went through another decade of civil war and has essentially been in conflict with foreign powers or internal factions, and sometimes both, since 1979. More war is clearly not what the Afghans needed.
From the start, the logic of attracting terrorists to Afghanistan was flawed because such a war could only be successful if the enemy were in limited supply. Instead, the invasion of Afghanistan created more combatants in the sense that it prompted Afghans to resist being occupied. Afghans who wouldn’t normally have a quarrel with the US suddenly had a reason to take up arms. Furthermore, the invasion of Afghanistan is seen as further proof the United States meddles in the affairs of Middle Eastern countries, which only enflames anti-American sentiment and prompts young men in the region to fight foreign occupation.
In short, continued US involvement in Afghanistan breeds terrorism.
Trump’s decision to remain in Afghanistan runs counter to his America First declarations during the presidential campaign. I was hopeful the United States would worry more about the state of their own affairs (which are in dire need of attention) rather than invading someone else’s country. That doesn’t appear to be the case.
In Trump’s defence, he said his instincts tell him to withdraw from Afghanistan, but “a hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum for terrorists, including ISIS and Al Qaeda.” Yes and no. While I think there’s an argument to be made for terrorism developing in lawless regions (as seen in Somalia, Iraq and Libya) there’s equally an argument to be made for terrorism developing if the United States remain in Afghanistan.
The Taliban will continue to fight as long as the Americans remain in Afghanistan, that we can be sure of. The US military can’t stay indefinitely. At one point, they’ll have to leave and while that may cause instability in the short-term, it will prove to be the right decision in the long-term.
Besides, America was never serious about winning in Afghanistan. They never committed the troops necessary to win decisively and have fought the war with half-hearted determination. It might be said they fought with one arm tied behind their back and without much will to win.
Bin Laden is dead and terrorism is spreading into Europe plus the Middle East is more unstable now than 16 years ago. It may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but the War in Afghanistan has been a waste.
NEWS PHOTO DOMINIQUE LIBOIRON
George Custer’s grave (black marker) is surrounded by the graves of US Seventh Calvary soldiers who died during their last stand on a hilltop above the Little Big Horn River.