Most American veterans say the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were ‘not worth fighting’

The U.S. governments so-called “war on terror” is nearly two decades old, and strong majorities of U.S. veterans and the general public do not approve of its biggest efforts — the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a new poll from Pew Research Center.

The survey found 64% of veterans said the Iraq War wasn’t worth fighting, along with 58% who said the same about Afghanistan. Likewise, 62% of U.S. adults said Iraq wasn’t worth it, along with 59% who expressed the same view on Afghanistan. Most veterans (52%) and U.S. adults (58%) also said the U.S. military campaign in Syria has not been worth it.

The U.S. invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Almost 19 years later, the U.S. military is still present in the country and American service members are still dying there. Indeed, although the U.S. declared an end to combat operations in Afghanistan in 2014, the fight there is ongoing. It has claimed the lives of more than 2,400 American soldiers.

Roughly 14,000 U.S. troops are still in Afghanistan as the Trump administration pushes for peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government. It’s estimated the Taliban now controls or contests roughly 61% of the country’s districts, and themore radical Islamic State group — also known as ISIS — has gained a strong foothold in the country.

But Afghanistan remains a country consumed by conflict and violence, which helps explain why it was recently ranked the least peaceful country in the world — replacing Syria — in the 2019 Global Peace Index report.

In recent weeks, the U.S. has flexed its military muscles at Iran in a standoff that has sparked fears of a new conflict in the Middle East. The Trump administration sent a number of military assets to the region, including an aircraft carrier strike group and more troops, in response to the tensions.

After Iran shot down a U.S. Navy drone last month, allegedly over their territory, President Trump nearly responded with a military strike. That situation has only become more contentious in the days since.

A Reuters/Ipsos public opinion poll released in May found about half of U.S. adults believe the U.S. will be at war with Iran “within the next few years.”

The U.S. “war on terror” overall has cost nearly $6 trillion and killed roughly half a million people, and there’s no end in sight.

– edited from Business Insider, July 11, 2019
PeaceMeal, July/August 2019

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Afghanistan war by the numbers

It seems the only Afghanistan war number that everyone agrees on is how long we’ve been fighting it: 17 years. But beyond that key date, other data, including Afghan battlefield deaths and civilians killed in the crossfire, are denied to the rest of us by the United States and Afghan officials running the war.

If the Afghanistan war were a business, no accountant could audit its books based on the flimsy and conflicting data Americans have available to decide whether or not to continue this invest-ment. And it’s a heavy lift: Beyond the deaths of 2,317 U.S. troops in and around Afghanistan, the nation has spent close to $1 trillion on this war, including $126 billion to build Afghan security forces capable of defending their country on their own, and for economic development.

But after nearly two decades, the U.S. and Afghanistan are treading water in this conflict, at best. “U.S. military officials increasingly refer to ‘momentum’ against the Taliban. However, by some measures, insurgents are in control of or contesting more territory today than at any point since 2001,” the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service reported on September 18.

“Follow the money” is talked about in politics, but when it comes to war, “follow the numbers” is just as important. The U.S. military has long used figures — troops deployed, tons of bombs dropped, attacks launched — as yardsticks on the road to victory. Sometimes figures can be misleading — none more so than the infamous body counts of enemy killed in Vietnam, but they do represent a crude proxy for progress, or lack thereof. The current dearth of data from the U.S. and Afghan governments can mean only one thing: the war is not going well.

“The Taliban has been anything but defeated militarily,” veteran war-watcher Bill Roggio wrote recently at Long War Journal. “Taliban controlled and contested territory remains unchanged since the U.S. changed its strategy, and the Taliban has been dealing Afghan forces major blows on the battlefield.”

Washington and Kabul have flip-flopped on what numbers they provide. Over the past 16 years, they have published Taliban body counts, then halted them, before resuming them yet again in January 2018. Then they stopped doing so September 20 when the New York Times asked about the resumption of the practice.

Some see the Taliban death tally as the Pentagon’s way of showing a skeptical President Trump that his revamped war strategy, with 14,000 U.S. troops now in Afghanistan — a 4,000 boost on his watch — is making progress. For the past year, the United States and Afghanistan governments have refused to say how many Afghan troops and police have been killed fighting the Taliban as their casualties have soared — up to 400 in one recent week, according to the Times.

Most critical data remains elusive. In his latest report to Congress released in July, John Sopko, the tireless Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, described the currently-secret war figures:

• Afghan casualties (according to the Congressional Research Service, Afghan combat deaths went from roughly 5,500 in 2015 to 6,700 in 2016 to over 10,000 last year)

• the target size of most Afghan military and police units, and how close to that goal each unit is (independent reporting indicates that only 314,000 of the 352,000 authorized slots are filled)

• how many Afghans are leaving their country’s army and police force (outside reporting suggests 35 percent of Afghan army and police personnel quit each year)

• how well those units are performing (the Obama admini-stration also resisted reporting that information)

• how ready their equipment is

• how many aircraft and pilots are assigned to the only Afghan air unit outfitted with night-vision gear, assault helicopters, and fixed-wing intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities

• information about how much damage U.S. airstrikes have done against targets suspected of funding the Taliban

Numbers represent a crude proxy for progress, or lack thereof. The current dearth of data from the U.S. and Afghan governments can mean only one thing: the war is not going well.

The nation is tired of the war, yet taxpayers continue to pay for it (close to $1 billion weekly) and risk the lives of young Americans for a murky mission. No one reflects this laissez-faire attitude more than the commander in chief: he has yet to visit with U.S. troops in Afghanistan or any other war zone.

Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on September 24 that the Afghan government was not losing a “war of attrition” to the Taliban. “So far, they have taken hard casualties over the last year,” he said. “And they’re still in the fight.”

That sounds familiar to those of a certain age. Army General William Westmoreland was fighting the same kind of war in Vietnam a half-century ago. “The premise was that, if he could kill enough of the enemy, they would lose heart and cease their aggression against the South Vietnamese,” author Lewis Sorley told me in 2011, when he published Westmoreland: The General Who Lost Vietnam. “The enemy did not lose heart, did not cease aggression. Instead he simply sent more and more replacements to make up his losses. Westmoreland’s first resort in claiming pro-gress in the war was always body count, but in fact this was meaningless. All the enemy’s losses were quickly made up. Westmoreland was on a treadmill.”

Currently, relatively few U.S. troops are dying on Afghan soil (five so far this year). The bad news is that we’re on a second treadmill 2,500 miles from Westmoreland’s, and we’ve been on it far longer with no end yet in sight. Without key numbers, there’s no way to add up what’s really going on.

– edited from an article by Mark Thompson in The Defense Monitor, November/December 2018
PeaceMeal, January/February 2019

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

We must decide on a new war strategy in Afghanistan

David Craig

October 7 marked the 17th anniversary of the start of our war in Afghanistan — the “War on Terror.” Originally referred to as Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), the invasion was the George W. Bush administration’s response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11, still the deadliest terrorist attacks in world history.

Home to the training camps and masterminds behind the 9/11 carnage, Afghanistan was the proper target for an aggrieved and angry nation intent on punishing the perpetrators and preventing future attacks. But somewhere along the line, the operation evolved into a conflict that historian Andrew J. Bacevich Sr. termed the “permanent war for permanent peace.” And it has left our nation weary, if not apathetic.

Costing somewhere between $1.5 trillion and $5.6 trillion and the lives of nearly 6,000 U.S. service members (including 2,347 OEF deaths as of August 2018), the burden of combat has been borne by an increasingly small portion of the population. And while support for OEF in the wake of 9/11 was overwhelming, the absence of nuclear weapons in Iraq made the overall war on terror increasingly unpopular and Afghanistan a distant concern.

Polling conducted by YouGov reflects skepticism of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and a surprising lack of support for the initial invasion of Afghanistan. Only 30 percent of civilian respondents believe that the invasion was the correct choice, compared to 50 percent of military respondents.

Extrapolating further, Americans have lost sight of the war’s original mission: to kill or capture al-Qaeda members responsible for 9/11 and deny safe haven to them by removing the Taliban from power. A majority of both military and civilian respondents believe that the United States should either draw down significantly from the current troop count of just over 8,000 or end our involvement altogether.

The original invasion, launched against those that actually attacked the U.S., became a neglected conflict held ransom to the effort to quell a growing insurgency in Iraq. The flawed justification for its invasion — the allegation that Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11 attacks, which morphed into an allegation of possession of weapons of mass destruction — turned the media and popular opinion against both wars, leaving those who serve in the military as victims in a political power play. Meanwhile, the Taliban, al-Qaeda and Islamic State gained ground in Afghanistan.

Like the war in Vietnam, Afghanistan was shaped by political perceptions, in this case an expedient response to the horrors of 9/11. Lacking a clear national strategy, our involvement there has become a quagmire. Our inability to frame military engagements in the context of ends, ways and means, but instead as a politically divisive tool for partisanship, comes at the expense of lost lives and trillions of dollars.

As a U.S. Marine who served and was wounded in this endless war myself, it is incumbent on our nation’s leadership of all political stripes to come together to prudently employ our men and women in the military as means to defined ends.

The recent death of a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan went largely unnoticed, a sad reminder of just how detached we have become from what is the longest war in America’s history. To prevent the bleeding of money and lives and the future security of our nation, we must come together to consider how to achieve our desired ends before it ends us all.

– edited from Real Clear Politics, October 9, 2018
PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2018

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Newest U.S. strategy in Afghanistan mirrors past plans for retreat

The Trump administration is urging American-backed Afghan troops to retreat from sparsely populated areas of the country, officials said, all but ensuring that the Taliban will remain in control of vast stretches of the country. The approach is outlined in a previously undisclosed part of the war strategy that President Trump announced last year, which is meant to protect military forces from attacks at isolated and vulnerable outposts and focuses on protecting the capital, Kabul, and other population centers.

The withdrawal resembles strategies embraced by both the Bush and Obama administrations that have started and stuttered over the nearly 17-year war. It will effectively ensure that the Taliban and other insurgent groups will hold on to territory that they have already seized, leaving the government in Kabul to safeguard the capital and cities such as Kandahar, Kunduz and Jalalabad.

After the declared end of combat operations in 2014, most American troops withdrew to major population areas in the country, leaving Afghan forces to defend remote outposts. Many of those bases fell in the following months.

The retreat to the cities is a searing acknowledgment that the American-installed government in Afghanistan remains unable to lead and protect the country’s sprawling rural population. Over the years, as waves of American and NATO troops have come and left in repeated cycles, the government has slowly retrenched and ceded chunks of territory to the Taliban, cleaving Afghanistan into disparate parts and ensuring a conflict with no end in sight.

During a news conference in June in Brussels, Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., the commander of the American-led coalition in Afghanistan, said remote outposts were being overrun by the Taliban, which was seizing local forces’ vehicles and equipment. “There is a tension there between what is the best tactic militarily and what are the needs of the society,” General Nicholson said.

Just over one-quarter of Afghanistan’s population lives in urban areas, according to C.I.A. estimates. Most Afghans live and farm across vast rural hinterlands. Of the country’s 407 districts, the government either controls or heavily influences 229 to the Taliban’s 59. The remaining 119 districts are considered contested, according to the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

Hundreds of Afghan troops are being killed and wounded nearly every week — many in Taliban attacks on isolated checkpoints. Over the last year alone, the number of Afghan soldiers, police, pilots and other security forces dropped by about 5 percent, or 18,000 fewer people, according to the inspector general’s office.

Not all of the roughly 14,000 United States troops currently in Afghanistan have pulled back to cities. Some who are training and advising Afghan troops as part of President Trump’s war strategy are stationed in bases in remote areas and smaller towns. Trump has long called for ending the war in Afghanistan and only reluctantly accepted Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’s advice to send an additional 4,000 troops in an attempt to claim victory.

The Trump administration is also instructing top American diplomats to seek direct talks with the Taliban to refuel nego-tiations to end the war. Two senior Taliban officials said on July 28 that such talks had been held in Qatar a week earlier. If they happen, the negotiations would be a major shift in American policy and would serve as a bridge to an eventual withdrawal of all United States forces from Afghanistan.

Evan McAllister, a former reconnaissance Marine staff sergeant and sniper, fought in parts of Helmand Province in 2008 and 2011 — areas that are now almost entirely under Taliban control. He said trying to maintain an Afghan government-friendly presence in rural areas was, and still is, a “fool’s errand.”

“Attempting to control rural areas in Afghanistan always eventually ends up boiling down to simple personal survival,” Mr. McAllister said. “No strategic gains are accomplished, no populace is influenced, but the death or dismemberment of American and Afghan troops is permanent and guaranteed.”

– edited from The New York Times, July 28, 2018
PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2018

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Afghan war ‘still in a stalemate,’ says top U.S. commander

Gen. John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said that the war in the country is “still in a stalemate,” but that President Trump’s new strategy provides momentum to the fight against the Taliban and other militant groups. President Trump moved in September to send an additional 3,000 troops to Afghanistan in an effort to break the stalemate.

“This change in policy has reversed this decline that we've been in since 2011,” Nicholson told NBC News. “And what I would say is that we’ve drawn down too far and too fast. We communicated to the enemy that we had lost our will to win, and now with a new policy as of August, we are going to win. And winning means delivering a negotiated settlement that reduces the level of violence and protecting the homeland.”

– edited from The Hill, November 24, 2017
PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2018

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Afghanistan: A civil war state of mind

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis announced on September 18 that the United States will send more than 3,000 troops to Afghanistan in an effort to win America’s 16-year war — the longest in U.S. history. It is also a reversal for President Trump, who came into office promising to minimize America’s involvement abroad. The additional troops will bring the total serving in Afghanistan to at least 14,000.

The announcement came less than a month after Trump outlined his war strategy in a high-profile August 21 speech in front of troops at Fort Myer, Virginia. Trump said the U.S. would win the war but didn’t say when any troops would come home.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson offered a different view of America’s goals in Afghanistan: “I think the president was clear this entire effort was intended to put pressure on the Taliban, to have the Taliban understand that you will not win a battlefield victory,” he said during a press conference the following day. “We may not win one, but neither will you.”

In line with this view, the United States and the Afghan government have laid out a process of “security prioritization.” The latest report of the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction describes this strategy as “identifying the most important areas that the [Afghan National Defense and Security Forces] must hold to prevent defeat, and placing less emphasis on less vital areas.” This is a shift from a counter-insurgency approach to a “civil war” footing that seeks to con-solidate power in crucial areas to ensure long-term survival of the government in Kabul.

Counterinsurgency assumes that there is a preponderance of power in favor of government forces relative to the insurgency, while civil war implies a rough degree of parity in the balance of power between the government and the armed opposition. The goal for the government forces shifts from an outright military victory regaining control over the entire country to consolidating and defending key areas that would ensure its long-term survival.

In the face of a resilient Taliban insurgency, mounting casualties among Afghan forces, and international partners moving to place responsibility for the fighting squarely on Kabul’s shoulders, President Ashraf Ghani and the Afghan government have had to reconsider the capability of their forces.

Kabul acknowledges that it is not capable of reasserting its authority over the whole of Afghanistan. Instead, the government is digging in to defend the areas they deem vital to survive in the long term, such as the major provincial and district capitals and populations centers, while ceding the hinterland to the Taliban, which currently controls more than 40 percent of the country and about a third of the country’s population — 8.4 million Afghans.

The new U.S. troops will help Afghan forces by advising them and providing artillery and air support. By deploying 3,000 more troops, Trump becomes the third president — joining George W. Bush and Barack Obama — to wade into the quagmire.

– edited from The Diplomat and Vox
PeaceMeal, Sept./October 2017

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Let’s admit the obvious: Afghanistan War is unwinnable

Douglas A. Wissing
The Hill, March 25, 2017

The Afghanistan War is unwinnable. Partnered with a corrupt and ineffective Afghan government, U.S. forces confront a robust and growing insurgency, substantively funded by skimmed American contracts. After 15 years of dysfunctional U.S. development schemes costing over $100 billion, Afghans remain near the bottom of most human development indices.

Beyond the counterinsurgency failures, many Afghans remain resistant to ideas imposed by foreigners. One Kentucky sergeant, frustrated by his team’s failed development mission, drawled to me, “The Afghans ain’t buyin’ what we’re sellin’.”

There is no good way forward. The systemic failure of the 21st-century American way of war and development cannot easily be reformed. The many entrenched beneficiaries, both Afghan and American, have perverse incentives to continue the futile war. “It’s the perfect war,” one intelligence officer told me. “Everyone is making money.”

Doing more of the same won’t yield a different outcome.

With operations ramping up in Syria, Afghanistan is the forgotten war. Americans are often surprised to learn Afghanistan remains our largest military foreign engagement, with 8,400 troops plus untold numbers of special forces and tens of thousands of contractors for the Department of Defense and other agencies.

U.S.-led coalition commander Gen. John W. Nicholson recently asked for “a few thousand” more troops to break “the stalemate.” U.S. Central Command head Gen. Joseph Votel said the new Pentagon strategy included more troops.

Neither explained how 2,000 more soldiers could change the direction of the war when 100,000 didn’t.

To fund Afghanistan operations, the Pentagon and State Department initially asked Congress for fiscal 2017 appropriations of $44 billion, later raised by over $11 billion, in part to maintain 8,400 troops in Afghanistan. About 70 percent of the amended Defense appropriations request is for Afghanistan. (Referentially, the initial budget request for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria [ISIS]/Syria operations was only $5 billion.)

Additional troops will require additional appropriations. Economists indicate the Afghanistan War alone will cost over $1 trillion; over $5 trillion for the two post-9/11 wars.

Endless war has stressed America’s military. Veterans Affairs is overwhelmed with post-9/11 wounded and disabled vets: over 1,600 amputees; 327,000 vets with traumatic brain injuries; and 700,000 vets who are 30 percent or more disabled. Post-traumatic stress disorder is rampant. And the burden most often falls on military families, struggling to assist vets wounded in body, mind and soul.

This sacrifice has accomplished little. Sixteen years into the American intervention, Afghanistan’s government is ranked among the world’s most corrupt: ninth on the Fragile States Index. In 2016, tens of thousands of Afghan security forces were war casualties, as were 12,000 civilians. The conflict displaced 600,000 Afghans, adding to the refugee crisis.

When the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, it was at the bottom of virtually every human development index — infant mortality, life expectancy, per capita income, literacy, electricity usage, etc. Since the invasion, the U.S. has spent more on development in Afghanistan — a country of about 30 million with a per capita annual income of about $400 — than was spent on the Marshall Plan, adjusted for inflation.

Yet despite $117 billion of U.S. development aid since 2002, Afghanistan remains a disaster zone, still near the bottom of virtually every Human Development Index. Afghanistan is a victim of “phantom aid,” development funding wasted through pernicious corruption and greed in both donor and recipient countries.

Each year since at least 2005, the Taliban’s strength has been growing at double-digit rates. Taliban shadow governments operate in virtually every province, and essentially control several of them. Analysts indicate insurgents now control about half of the countryside. The Taliban have no need to go to the negotiating table. They are winning.

The insurgents are pressuring government centers across the country. Kabul is besieged with attacks, the latest on a military hospital where over 30 people were killed and dozens wounded. Insurgencies are centripetal: They start in the countryside and move into the government centers.

U.S. officials are calling the war “a stalemate.” The special forces’ dictum has long been that if an insurgency isn’t shrinking, it’s winning. So this is not a stalemate. It is a lost war.

Generals, diplomats and politicians are arguing the U.S. can’t withdraw from Afghanistan because of the “investment” of American blood and treasure. There is the wisdom of that great economics concept, sunk cost bias. Smart people are careful to not throw good money after bad.

President Trump is a pragmatic businessman, who knows when it’s time to stop the bleeding. He’s clearly not afraid to pull the plug on a lost cause — or a bad “investment.”

Douglas A. Wissing is a journalist and author of “Hopeless but Optimistic: Journeying through America’s Endless War in Afghanistan” (Indiana University Press, 2016). His article was reprinted in PeaceMeal, May/June 2017.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Deadly bombing in Kabul

A truck bomb devastated a central area of Kabul near the presidential palace and foreign embassies on May 31, one of the deadliest strikes in the long Afghan war and a reminder of how the capital itself has become a lethal battlefield. In one moment, more than 80 lives ended, hundreds of people were wounded, and many more were traumatized, in the heart of a city defined by constant security checkpoints and the densest concentration of Afghan and international forces.

Kabul’s vulnerability to such an attack spoke volumes to the frustrations of stabilizing the country despite 15 years of American-led military intervention to thwart the Taliban, coupled with hundreds of billions of dollars in foreign aid to a population that, for the most part has known only war.

For more than two hours, smoke rose from the blast site, a 13-foot crater centered on a vast circle of destruction. In different corners of the city, workers and relatives dug graves for the ones who, with life having become a game of chance, just were not lucky. Parents arrived to escort panicked children home from school, holding their hands and cautiously walking close to walls — as if walls could protect against such violence.

– edited from The New York Times, May 31, 2017
PeaceMeal, May/June 2017

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

The never-ending war in Afghanistan

Andrew J. Bacevich
The New York Times, March 13, 2017

BOSTON — Remember Afghanistan? The longest war in American history? Ever?

When it comes to wars, we Americans have a selective memory. The Afghan war, dating from October 2001, has earned the distinction of having been forgotten while still underway.

President Trump’s Inaugural Address included no mention of Afghanistan. Nor did his remarks in February at a joint session of Congress. For the new commander in chief, the war there qualifies at best as an afterthought — assuming, that is, he has thought about it all.

A similar attitude prevails on Capitol Hill. Congressional oversight has become pro forma. Last week Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of Central Command, told Congress that the Pentagon would probably need more troops in Afghanistan, a statement that seemed to catch politicians and reporters by surprise — but that was old news to anyone who’s been paying attention to the conflict.

And that’s the problem. It doesn’t seem that anyone is. At the Senate hearings on the nomination of James Mattis as defense secretary, Afghanistan barely came up.

To be fair, Mr. Mattis did acknowledge that “our country is still at war in Afghanistan,” albeit without assessing the war’s prospects. In response to a comment by Senator John McCain, the Armed Services Committee chairman, that “we are in serious trouble in Afghanistan,” Mr. Mattis merely allowed that the Taliban had “eroded some of our successes.”

That was it. No further follow up. Other members of the committee, Republican and Democratic, focused on more pressing concerns like seeking to induce Mr. Mattis to endorse military programs and installations in their home state.

The military brass deserves some of the blame. Soon after Mr. Mattis’s hearing, Gen. John Nicholson, the latest in a long line of American commanders to have presided over the Afghan mission, arrived in Washington to report on its progress. While conceding that the conflict is stalemated, General Nicholson doggedly insisted that it is a “stalemate where the equilibrium favors the government.” Carefully avoiding terms like “victory” or “win,” he described his strategy as “hold-fight-disrupt.” He ventured no guess on when the war might end.

All of this flies in the face of what the conflict in Afghanistan has become, a reality made clear in a recent report from the Defense Department’s special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction.

Despite appropriating over three-quarters of a trillion dollars on Afghanistan since 2001, Afghan security forces continue to be plagued by the problem of inflated rolls, with local commanders pocketing American-supplied funds to pay for nonexistent soldiers. According to the report, “The number of troops fighting alongside ‘ghost soldiers’ is a fraction of the men required for the fight.”

Large-scale corruption persists, with Afghanistan third from the bottom in international rankings, ahead of only Somalia and North Korea. Adjusted for inflation, American spending to reconstruct Afghanistan now exceeds the total expended to rebuild all of Western Europe under the Marshall Plan; yet to have any hope of surviving, the Afghan government will for the foreseeable future remain almost completely dependent on outside support.

And things are getting worse. Although the United States has invested $70 billion in rebuilding Afghan security forces, only 63 percent of the country’s districts are under government control, with significant territory lost to the Taliban over the past year. Though the United States has spent $8.5 billion to battle narcotics in Afghanistan, opium production there has reached an all-time high.

For this, over the past 15 years, nearly 2,400 American soldiers have died, and 20,000 more have been wounded.

What are we to make of the chasm between effort expended and results achieved? Why on those increasingly infrequent occasions when Afghanistan attracts notice do half-truths and pettifoggery prevail, rather than hard-nosed assessments? Why has Washington ceased to care about the Afghan war?

The answer, it seems to me, is this: As with budget deficits or cost overruns on weapons purchases, members of the national security apparatus — elected and appointed officials, senior military officers and other policy insiders — accept war as a normal condition.

Once, the avoidance of war figured as a national priority. On those occasions when war proved unavoidable, the idea was to end the conflict as expeditiously as possible on favorable terms.

 These precepts no longer apply. With war transformed into a perpetual endeavor, expectations have changed. In Washington, war has become tolerable, an enterprise to be managed rather than terminated as quickly as possible. Like other large-scale government projects, war now serves as a medium through which favors are bestowed, largess distributed and ambitions satisfied.

That our impulsive commander-in-chief may one day initiate some new war in a fit of pique is a worrisome prospect. That neither President Trump nor anyone else in Washington seems troubled that wars once begun drag on in perpetuity is beyond worrisome.

Andrew J. Bacevich is an American historian and author specializing in international relations, security studies, American foreign policy, and American diplomatic and military history. His latest book is “America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History.”

– PeaceMeal, March/April 2017

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Wave of political defections spells new trouble for Afghanistan

KABUL — Afghanistan’s embattled government is facing a new challenge to its rule. Former supporters, disillusioned by what they see as its incompetence, now want fresh elections to remove the president from power. The discontent comes as the country is confronting a robust Taliban insurgency and an economy crippled by the withdrawal of foreign troops.

Over the past few months, politicians, warlords, former ministers and other powerbrokers have come out against the government, which they say is paralyzed by infighting and unable to govern. Critics have slammed the administration of President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, who together formed a national unity government after flawed elections in 2014, and they are calling for a snap presidential election to break the deadlock.

The government says it is dedicated to implementing reforms and has prioritized corruption and unemployment. But adding to the urgency is the looming September deadline for launching the mechanism to create a new legitimate government. If that deadline is not met, which is likely, Afghanistan could face a power vacuum that would destabilize the country even further.

“If it performed well, people were willing to give the [national unity] government the benefit of the doubt. But it hasn’t. It has proved disastrous for this country,” said Anwar ul-Haq Ahadi, a former Ghani supporter and onetime finance minister under the previous president, Hamid Karzai.

The deal, brokered by the United States nearly two years ago, called for parliamentary elections and a constitutional assembly to legitimize the government by September this year. The assembly would decide whether to permanently enshrine the chief-executive role as that of prime minister, a more authoritative position.

But so far, none of those steps has been taken. Instead, government squabbling over basic decisions has only hindered reforms. Kabul, the capital city of 4 million people, is still without a mayor because of the deadlock.

– edited from an article by Erin Cunningham in The Washington Post, March 29, 2016
PeceMeal, March/ April 2016

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Human error led to deadly U.S. strike on Afghan hospital

WASHINGTON – A U.S. investigation found that the deadly October 3 air strike in Afghanistan that destroyed a hospital run by international humanitarian-aid NGO Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) was a tragic and avoidable accident caused primarily by human error, a top U.S. military commander said on November 25. Some U.S. personnel were suspended and could face disciplinary action after failing to follow U.S. rules of engagement in a war zone, said U.S. Army General John Campbell, who leads international forces in Afghanistan.

It remained unclear whether the U.S. military, even as it expressed remorse and wholly accepted blame, would be able to quickly mend its image in Afghanistan and elsewhere after the attack, which killed 30 people.

MSF’s general director Christopher Stokes said in a statement that the investigation illustrated “gross negligence” by U.S. forces. MSF had in the past publicly cast doubt on the idea that the strike could have been a mistake. Detailing its own investigation on November 5, MSF said the site’s location had been clearly communicated to both Afghan forces and the Taliban.

“This was a tragic mistake,” Campbell said at a Pentagon news conference, releasing the results of the U.S. investigation. “U.S. forces would never intentionally strike a hospital or other protected facilities.”

“The frightening catalogue of errors outlined today illustrates gross negligence on the part of U.S. forces and violations of the rules of war,” Stokes said in his statement. “MSF reiterates its call for an independent and impartial investigation into the attack on our hospital in Kunduz.”

Campbell acknowledged the hospital was on a no-strike list and that MSF had called during the attack to alert the U.S.-led forces. He described a series of mistakes that allowed the American forces to destroy the hospital, despite the call.

According to the U.S. investigation, U.S. forces had meant to target a different building in the city and were led off-track by a technical error in their aircraft’s mapping system that initially directed them to an empty field. The U.S. forces then looked for a target that was visually similar to the one they had originally sought — the former National Directorate of Security headquarters in Kunduz, which they believed was occupied by insurgents.

“Tragically, this misidentification continued throughout the remainder of the operation even though there were contradictory indicators,” Campbell said.

The grid location of the AC-130 aircraft that attacked the hospital eventually identified the correct target building. In addition, there was no hostile enemy activity at the MSF hospital, Campbell said, but the U.S. attack continued. “These are examples of human and procedural errors,” he said.

The timeline detailed by the U.S. military indicated that the 29-minute-long strike began at 2:08 a.m. By 2:20 a.m. a caller from MSF reported the attack to Bagram air base. It took U.S. forces until 2:37 a.m. to realize the mistake, by which time the AC-130 gunship had already stopped firing.

“It is shocking that an attack can be carried out when U.S. forces have neither eyes on a target nor access to a no-strike list, and have malfunctioning communications systems,” MSF’s Stokes said.

Campbell said the investigation found that the strike killed 30 staff, patients and assistants and injured 37. He gave his condolences and said the U.S. military would offer to help rebuild the hospital.

“Chaos does not justify this tragedy,” Brigadier General Wilson Shoffner, a U.S. spokesman, said at the briefing. “We are absolutely heartbroken over what has occurred here and we will do absolutely everything in our power to make sure that it does not happen again.”

– edited from an article by Phil Stewart and Yeganeh Torbati of Reuters, November 25, 2015
PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2015

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

In an Afghanistan awash in arms, a push to ban toy guns

KABUL, Afghanistan — The weapons of Afghanistan’s long decades of war can be seen almost everywhere, from the burned-out hulks of Soviet tanks to the Kalashnikov assault rifles slung over policemen’s shoulders. So, it should be no surprise that young children play “police and Taliban,” chasing each other around with toy guns designed to mimic the real thing. And like the real war, there have been casualties.

At least 184 people, nearly all children, suffered eye injuries over the Eid al-Fitr holiday in July from toy weapons that fire BB pellets and rubber shot, health officials said. In response, authorities have banned toy guns and ordered all police forces to search shops and confiscate them — even from from children.

The toy guns come mostly from China and neighboring Pakistan. Many were given to young boys as gifts during the Eid holiday that marked the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. Authorities had tried to warn parents about the dangers the guns posed before the holiday.

“An awareness video was prepared as an initiative to inform people how much these toy guns can be dangerous,” said Dr. Abdul Rahim Majeed, the program manager for the public Noor Eye Hospital. “Unfortunately, the families did not take it seriously and didn’t pay attention to this important message, and it caused many people to get injured and come to hospitals for treatments.”

Majeed said Noor treated 116 cases during the holiday — double the number from last year.

Parents like Shakib Nasery, a 38-year-old father of two, welcomed the effort to eliminate the toy guns. Any reduction of violence in the insurgency-wracked country — even if just child’s play — would be good, he said.

“It is not good for a society to have kids with such mentality of using guns or playing gun battles,” Nasery said. “Unfortunately, this is the negative impact of an ongoing war in our country.”

– edited from The Associated Press, July 27, 2015
PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2015

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)