On Monday, August 21, 2017, President Donald J. Trump gave a foreign policy speech dealing with Afghanistan. It stated that there would be a continuation of our troops being there and that at some near point in the future more troops would be added to our presence. The Afghanistan War, if it is a war in the strict sense of the term, is to date the longest war or military action in which the United States has ever been involved, it has now lasted 16 years. Of course one could argue that we are still at war with North Korea since we have had troops stationed at their border since 1953 when a truce was declared.
The issue with Afghanistan is rather complex. President Trump edited out a lot of information in his presentation. It will be useful to consider some of these facts.
Shortly after the terrorist assault and destruction upon the Twin Towers in New York City on 9/11/01 the U.S. military attacked Afghanistan which was then ruled by the Taliban. The terrorist raid upon America was organized from there. While that war was going on the U.S. also attacked Iraq, a country which presumably had weapons of mass destruction. To President Bush, his Vice President, Dick Cheney, and his Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, this was an ideal opportunity to remake both of these nations into copies of the United States.
Unfortunately by the American leaders there was no understanding of either of these countries or of their cultures or people. Iraq was then ruled by Saddam Hussein, a dictator. The country was quickly militarily taken over and a new government was established by the U.S. One of the major problems of the new Iraqi government was that it functioned by favoritism, nepotism, and corruption. For another thing the new government instead of treating all its citizens equally favored the Shiites over the Sunnis, one major religious sect over the other.
These forces that existed in both the military and the government put people in positions of authority regardless of their capabilities. In the army it chose its officers in this fashion, meaning the military corps were essentially led by incompetents. Given a combat situation they would probably be the first to run, leading to mass desertions during battles, particularly against determined fighters.
The Iraqi example of corruption that stands out was a large building put up by an Iraqi contractor and paid for by the U.S. government on the edge of the desert. The building, when finished cost millions of dollars and was never used. It’s probably become part of the desert today. It seems that the builder, in order to increase his profits, minimized the amount of concrete mixed with the sand to such an extent that when water hit a part of the building it dissolved the concrete. And it does at intervals rain there. It was never safe to enter the structure because any part could dissolve at any time. The probability was that the builder pocketed his profits without any complaints. This is one blaring example, there are countless others.
In battle, when the Iraqi military faced determined fighters like ISIS, they would throw down their weapons and flee the scene. The Iraqi President demanded that if the Americans stayed in Iraq they came under the legal jurisdiction of the Iraqi civilian legal system. The American army has its own code of military laws which would try American soldiers for infractions of the laws. They would not put their men under Iraqi jurisdiction. Consequently, as the Iraqis wished, the United States began removing its army from Iraq.
Essentially the same thing happened in Afghanistan. Under President Barack Obama the troops were being removed from that country. Both Iraq and Afghanistan had been able to order the U.S. around but their governments were not strong enough to hold their territories against the Taliban, ISIS, and Al-Qaida. This has necessitated the return of American troops and the continued war in these countries.
Presumably today, there have been improvements. The American troops serve as advisers. President Trump, in Afghanistan, wants them to kill members of the terrorist groups, that is, to go back to a combat mission and win the war.
Is it really a war? Or are we holding these territories for governments that are not really capable of controlling their own land? If this is true then we are stuck in Iraq and Afghanistan for the duration, however long that may be.
Trump’s new strategy for war in Afghanistan is very similar to Obama’s old strategy. A large number, possibly 4,000 or more American soldiers will be added at some point in the near future bringing our military forces there to just over twelve thousand men. The U.S. will, according to President Trump, presumably quickly kill the enemy and win the war. The actual probability is that the enemy will then fade away, essentially leave the country during the American buildup and then return when the U.S. removes most of the troops. They’ve done this before.
What will it take to change this pattern? And is it possible? Can the Afghanistan’s stand up to their radical forces? This was President Obama’s plan. If we again take up the war and fight it will we be actually doing Afghanistan a favor or encouraging their traditional position?
In point of fact, is it really a war that is being fought in Afghanistan or are we just maintaining the status quo? Will these countries ever be strong enough to maintain their own security? That’s an interesting question. Can it be answered at present?