Every once in while it is a good idea to stop for a moment and look at a world map. I found myself away from my daily anchor — home and my desk top computer, and the volume control on the television set in the home I was visiting was broken. For a long moment, this all produced a senior moment seizure– I lost my internal vision of a world map. In particular, I lost those counties in the world where there is the constant drone of violence. It was a very uncomfortable senior blank page.
What I was trying to do, because of a three sentence news spike I had overheard, was to have a clear, arm’s length view of Afghanistan, and its unending cascade of violence. It is there that American boots have been mired in its mud for far too long. What triggered my thinking was I had just learned that an Afghan had infiltrated an army camp and opened deadly fire on American troops.
Over the years, our government has attached different –supposedly catchy phase names — to the various groups of our soldiers sent to that and other countries. I immediately ignore them as being inane, mindless and really not inspiring. They are not and do not change the real facts on the ground. U. S. soldiers have just been killed by enemy fire within a supposed safe military compound.
By taking command of an I-pad, I was able to look back at our long history in Afghanistan. What became vivid was last 320 months of our presence there. That number – 320 months translates into 15 years — stood out in bold letters. I was stunned. To put that number in perspective: a child of 10 at the start of that war would now be an adult of 25.
Forty plus years before our 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, this then not very know nation, began its slide into chaos beginning initially with civil wars, then a political vacuum filled by our Cold War enemy the Soviet Union (who was then defeated on the battlefield), along with our own international indecisiveness and political nativity and finally our headlong rush into a black-pit-no-exit war. A war that now enters its 16th year.
“War” by definition means death.
Our present administration has abdicated its decision making process to the generals and admirals with regard to the scope and dimensions of our involvement in this war, and not our civilian leaders who have always been the historical-constitutional designated leaders of this nation, As with all our military decisions today, the Commander-in-Chief has delegated this responsibility.
In 2001, on the front page of every newspaper and magazine, was pictured a recognizable thin, bearded man in white flowing garb, always holding an assault rifle. Osama bin Laden. It was in April of 2001 that our then president spoke to the nation and told us that we had demanded that the Taliban, in Afghanistan, extradite Osama bin Laden and oust the al-Qaeda from their nation. All the requests were denied, and the US then launched, on October 7, 2001, Operation Enduring Freedom with the UK at our side. We went to war to save the Afghan people.
Ten years later Osama bin Laden was killed by US Navy SEALs in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Three years later (2012), NATO finally devised an exit “strategy” (not withdrawal) from Afghanistan with the Americans announcing, in 2014, that its major combat involvement would cease at that year’s end. But! In early 2017, we have 8,400 American troops that remain in that war torn nation as “military advisors” for counterterrorism operations. Unofficially, the number of our troops stationed there is closer to 10,000. And, as I write this commentary, the US has announced deployment of 1,500 troops from Fort Brag this week, with an additional 3 to 5 thousand troops sent in the months ahead to shore up our military position. The Pentagon announcement also indicated that the troops deployed will be stationed closer to the fighting zones, as the fourth combat fatality this years was confirmed by the Pentagon. Reason, more boots on the ground forces are needed to carry out more strike missions. This new turn of events comes on the heels that ISIS has declared war on the Taliban. All this without any “formal plan” for the US to leave Afghanistan.
Operation Enduring Freedom has cost America 2,346 lives on the battle field and 20,092 with injuries that will not fade with time. The cost in dollars in relationship to lives is a meaningless calculation. General Nicholson, the commander of the “Resolute Support and US Forces”, views the battle field, at this moment, a “stalemate”. Why do we remain there?
According to the US commander of our forces in Afghanistan, there are about 800 ISIS solders holding out in the southern part of the country that are waging “a barbaric campaign of death, torture and violence” against the Afghan people.
Let us be very clear, our being in Afghanistan is not in any sense similar to our assisting the governments of France or England in their fight against the terrorism of ISIS in those countries. Afghanistan can best be described as a largely illiterate, feudal nation of competing tribes with pockets of Islamist militants and no real central government as we understand that concept. The reality on the ground is with ben Laden dead, Al-Qaeda has moved to other countries for its safe haven, and it is the Taliban who now controls more territory, as I look at the map, than it had before our invasion.
The American people have spent 800 billion dollars on that—the longest war in American history. And we have been unable, because we are incapable of building a central government from a country of competing tribes. Around the world there are ISIS strongholds of men and women willing and capable of committing themselves and their bodies to their cause. Does that mean, with our generals in Washington now in command, we are to engage in an armed struggle with each of those separately staged ISIS groups? I think not. If we leave now the terrorist will regroup and attack? This argument is true around the world, and that cannot be a reason for us to say in that unstable nation.
Our initial thrust for the 2001 invasion was to be rid of ben Laden and the Taliban in Afghanistan, and that was accomplished.
So why are we still there? We “won”. Didn’t we?