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Saturday, August 12, 2017

How Did We Get There In Afghanistan?

Within a few days after the 9-11 attacks in 2001, the war in Afghanistan began.  At first, the Northern Alliance took on the Taliban with the help of some American special forces troops and some US airpower.  It didn't take long for the Northern Alliance to occupy Kabul and to take all of the country's major cities.  The Taliban retreated into the countryside.  At that point, the war was basically won.  The USA could have withdrawn all of its forces (which really weren't many) and left the Afghans to control their own destiny.  We didn't do that, however, because Osama bin Laden was thought to be still holed up in Tora Bora along the Afghan/Pakistani border.  Nevertheless, we had a small force in Afghanistan and America was not engaged in much fighting in that country.

Then came the 2008 election.  Candidate Obama was running against the Iraq War.  Since he did not want to seem like too much of a pacifist, he announced his view that Afghanistan was the "good war" while Iraq was the "bad war".  Obama said that if elected, he would get out of Iraq but send many more troops to win the Afghan struggle once and for all.  It was a stupid position then, and it remains a stupid position now.  Iraq with its oil reserves and location in the heart of the Middle East's other oil powers has great strategic value.  Afghanistan has a much lower strategic value.  By election day in 2008, the USA had already essentially won in Iraq, so the task for the new president was to maintain that victory.  In Afghanistan, there was not much fighting, but the tribal differences made a true victory there much more difficult.  Nevertheless, after Obama won, he pulled the USA out of Iraq and announced a surge of forces into Afghanistan.  Not long after Obama took office, America's troop levels in Afghanistan were over 100,000.

The Obama surge in Afghanistan was a total failure.  Casualties soared.  Fighting did not end.  Bin Laden was killed, but not in Afghanistan.  Obama did not give his surge time to work; he announced the pull out of forces at the same time he announced the surge, so the Taliban knew all they had to do was wait.  And that is what they did. 

Obama took US troop levels in Afghanistan down to under 10,000.  At the same time, Taliban military strikes soared and much of the country went back under Taliban rule.  Obama could have just announced a total pull out of US forces, but instead he continued to dwindle the number of soldiers and watched the military situation unravel.  Obama was kicking the can down the road so that whoever followed him in office would have to deal with it.

Now we have President Trump who has been in the midst of rethinking the nature of US involvement in Afghanistan.  For the first time in a decade, there is a review in Washington of America's goals with regard to Afghanistan.  We could just pull out.  We could send more troops.  Without question, it was time for a new look at a problem that clearly baffled Obama.

I write all this because the new media line is that Trump is "losing" Afghanistan.  That's silly.  If anyone "lost" Afghanistan it was Obama.  Indeed, hopefully President Trump will not feel compelled to keep US forces in that country because he might be labeled a "loser" by the media.  There should be a final decision soon.

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