The Washington Post reports that President Trump wants to go after — really, really go after — the Taliban in Afghanistan:
President Trump’s most senior military and foreign policy advisers have proposed a major shift in strategy in Afghanistan that would effectively put the United States back on a war footing with the Taliban.
The new plan, which still needs the approval of the president, calls for expanding the U.S. military role as part of a broader effort to push an increasingly confident and resurgent Taliban back to the negotiating table, U.S. officials said.
The plan comes at the end of a sweeping policy review built around the president’s desire to reverse worsening security in Afghanistan and “start winning” again, said one U.S. official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
This will not, cannot work.
Give Trump’s military advisers points for clarity. Their war aim is clear:
“The review is an opportunity to send a message that, yes, the U.S. is going to send more troops, but it’s not to achieve a forever military victory,” said Andrew Wilder, an Afghanistan expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace. “Rather, it’s to try to bring about a negotiated end to this conflict.”
Still can’t work. Americans, American allies and Afghans are going to die for nothing. Here’s why.
I’ll spare you the Afghanistan As Graveyard of Empires argument that I’ve written about before. Yes, the Afghans beat the Brits thrice, the Russians once, and us every day since 9/11. Though the time (1842) they killed everyone in the British army except one guy is well worth reading about. A “signal catastrophe,” they called it. History repeats, especially in Afghanistan, but it isn’t predestination. Theoretically, the United States could defeat the Taliban. The reason they won’t is that they don’t have the political will to do so.
Militarily? Of course the U.S. can defeat the Taliban. The Taliban don’t have planes, long- or medium-range missiles. The U.S. can bomb the Taliban (and lots of non Talibs) to smithereens with a carpet-bombing campaign the likes of which the world has never seen before. They can drone them. They can send hundreds of thousands of highly trained and well-armed troops to invade and occupy the cities and villages and roads in between. If the U.S. declared Total War against the Taliban, if the U.S. were willing to dedicate its stunning economic and military power toward the goal of defending its puppet regime in Kabul, the Taliban would be killed and captured and driven over the mountains to Pakistan.
But that would be expensive. It wouldn’t take for very long before voters, and some journalists, began asking why the U.S. was willing to take tens of thousands of deaths in Afghanistan and willing to spend billions of dollars a week to occupy the country.
Supply lines to Afghanistan are long and difficult. There is no obvious geopolitical payoff, not one worth such a high price. At this point, the U.S.’ involvement in Afghanistan boils down to (a) let’s fuck with Iran and (b) it’s a launching pad for bombing attacks on the Tribal Areas of Pakistan along the Afghan border. Not much payoff there.
Yes, there are mineral resources. But this isn’t Iraq or Libya — natural resources aren’t coming out of the ground in significant numbers for years to come. Not that the U.S. is particularly good at looting natural resources, as we’ve seen in Iraq.
What about forcing the Taliban to negotiate? First, no one figure speaks for the whole movement. It’s a diverse alliance of tribes, ethnicities and political impulses. Second, we’ve been here before. Nixon bombed Vietnam to soften up the communists before negotiating. Bush used back channels to try to talk to the Taliban. Such efforts are fruitless against an adversary with the tactical advantages that come from fighting a guerrilla war as an indigenous. They’re local. They live there. Time is on their side. They’ll wait us out.
In the end, it’s simple cost-benefit analysis: low gain, high expense. Afghanistan just isn’t worth it.
Unfortunately, Trump and his henchmen won’t figure that out before more people have died over nothing.