How the scene can change when different eyes exam the landscape. When politicians view a military operation, not only are expectations altered but wins and losses on the battlefield are measured by different criteria—often not at the cost of lives. Military personal access the cost of battle not thru the periscope of headlines but in the number of causalities, Most often “Politicians” never participate in the wars they have voted for nor the sending of their kin into battle.
The Afghanistan war is the longest war we have ever participated in, and as I have written just one month ago (Afghanistan—The Exit Door, July 6th 2017), at a tremendous cost to human lives and a trillion dollars of our taxes. We have succeeded at the goals initially set out for our military commanders, and yet we move forward—more troops more material. Why today: What United States’ national security is at risk in Afghanistan? Why today: What do we risk at home if we withdraw from this particular battlefield?
If the answer is withdrawing our troops from Afghanistan and not committing an additional 4000 military personal, Iran will fill the political and military vacuum we have created. If the answer is upon withdrawing our troops we will have encouraged, empowered and enabled the terrorist to regroup, strengthen and take their acts of horror abroad to our shore and those of our allies. If those are our reasons, then first we should engage more directly and forcefully with Iran’s duplicitous leaders. Second, if we are fearful of those who are hostile to us and are planning or engaged in undermining siting governments then we should be engaged in many more venues than Afghanistan.
Since July 6 of this year, when I proposed that it was time for us to withdraw from that field of battle, the following has and is transpiring—all “not good”.
What is Afghanistan—it is neither a secure nor stable nation but one run with an openly corrupt political system, and as noted by the Washington Post, the Taliban’s “return from the dead.” Afghanistan is not a pretty country, extremely poor, landlocked, highly dependent on farming and livestock, and the country flows in and out of severe droughts. Their population has now lived thru 10 years of Soviet military occupation and presently, a 16 year war involving the US and NATO. The question is why we are there and the answer is clear and it is not the threat of its exportation of terrorism. Second, if it is because of the threat of Iran’s intentions to fill the vacuum created by our departure and its support for the Taliban siege, then we should plan to be there for decades of boots on the ground and that is untenable.
Besides oil and gas, Afghanistan is estimated to have significant coal reserves (probable reserves of 400 million tons), and more important, and as President Trump keeps referring to, there are important non-identified mineral deposits “he would like to get his hands on”. Afghanistan’s significance from an energy standpoint stems from its geographical position as a potential and important transfer route for oil and natural gas exports from Central Asia to the Arabian Sea. This potential includes proposed multi-billion-dollar oil and gas export pipelines through Afghanistan; clearly, these plans have now been thrown into serious question with the present level of violence. Trump’s predecessors also struggled with the mission of attempting to stabilizing that country and bringing U.S. troops home. Bringing the troops home were the operative words.
Bringing the troops home is NOT the present administrations’ goal. Nor do we have a political goal that has been articulated. To the contrary, at this moment, more troops are poised to be poured into that country and this administration, and the president has clearly indicated the desire to declare a “victory” to the Trump brand, and political base support. A political message is not in our national security interests. But there is more. At what cost?
A U.S. plan to improve Afghan intelligence operations was found to be a $457m failure, as was the Afghan’s ability to maintain its own security and stability. Although the President gave the Pentagon complete authority to set troop levels in Afghanistan (after his defense secretary, James Mattis, suggested the war was being lost) his complaints of a failure of military success are belied by his own failure to set a strategic and political ground plan. After the July, meeting there has been no declared policy or military strategy.
Then a NATO convoy was attacked in Kandahar. The attack caused serious casualties. It came as Afghan authorities in western Herat province tightened security, ahead of a mass funeral for the victims there of an attack the previous evening that killed 29. A suicide attacker opened fire inside a mosque packed with worshippers at evening prayers, before detonating his explosives. And American troops were killed either by Afghan soldiers or Taliban fighters.
In July, at a meeting in the White House, the President’s frustration was expressed–he voiced his negative attitude and hostility toward “experts” and his own military advisors. You might remember during one point in his campaign for the White House, he expressed his dismay with military commanders and our intelligence community: “I know more about ISIS than the generals do. Believe me!” The July White House meeting was a two hour top level meeting in the situation room in which these thoughts and others were expressed:
- The President continued his complaint that our NATO allies have “not been helpful”.
- How could the United States “get a piece” of Afghan’s mineral wealth.
- He repeatedly insisted that our top commander in the region be fired.
- The President also fumed that a decade ago China had purchased mineral rights in Afghanistan, which this country had supported, and has since been vigorously mining copper outside of Kabul. Why weren’t we in there “grabbing” the natural mineral resources —as China is earning trillions of dollars in rare minerals, while we fight their wars against the Taliban?
- This is the mindset of the President’s remarks shortly after being inaugurated, when he complained that the U.S. “didn’t grab” Iraq’ oil when our military forces left that country in 2011.
The July the meeting over, the President, as our commander-in-chief, left without making any decision regarding our nation’s political or military strategy. At this moment the United States has no policy plan for our place in Afghanistan. It left those that had participated in the meeting “unnerved”.
The fact is that you cannot win every confrontation that faces our nation, even if you are the United States. That is reality. We were forced out of Vietnam and our national security has not been affected. Then there is the reality that some nation states are not at this moment capable of entering into the 21 century, and the United States cannot force their democratic development in an arbitrary timetable. There is the reality that “grabbing” the natural resources of counties incapable of maintaining their own security is a form of colonialism—not national security.
There are realities and there are hopes. The reality is that Afghanistan is not crucial to our national security; the reality is that Iran is crucial to our national security; the reality is that there is an unacceptable conflict between what is necessary for the United States national security and a public relations tweet of “victory” or the “grabbing” of the natural resources of others.
Being in Afghanistan is not in the United States security interest. Confronting Iran is.