Patrolling the Panjwayi district near Kandahar (wikimedia)

Ending the “Endless War”

There was a time, seemingly ages ago, when Afghanistan was a war that almost everyone wanted. They wanted revenge for 9/11. It was a crusade against the Taliban regime and Al-Qaeda. America needed the war as protection against international terrorists like Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda. Very few voices were raised in opposition when Obama surged U.S. troops to about 100,000. The number of U.S. troops actually was wildly out of proportion to the enemy. The cost was enormous — $100 billion just in 2011! But soon the war in Afghanistan turned into a painful and futile experience. From saving Afghans, the imperative became get American soldiers home — as fast as possible (See Chap. 3: To Surge or Not to Surge)

Bringing an end to America’s longest war — which has lasted as long as WW I, WW II and the Civil War combined — killed more than 2300 Americans and wounded another 20,000 is an admirable goal. But the war in Afghanistan will not end — it will go on. Reducing the number of American troops from 10,000 to anything less is more of a symbolic gesture than a meaningful number.

Only one of the goals of remaining U.S. troops can be accomplished: protecting the American embassy in Kabul and maintaining operations at Bagram Air Field to the north of Kabul, the main American hub in Afghanistan, and at bases outside Kandahar in the country’s south and Jalalabad in the east. The other two goals, training the Afghan national army and support for the army against terrorist groups, are beyond the capacity of remaining American troops.

Afghanistan’s President Ghani needs all the help he can get from the United States and NATO allies. The recent fighting in Kunduz exposed the limits of both foreign forces in Afghanistan and Afghan soldiers. Just a few hundred Taliban soldiers forced thousands of Afghan soldiers and police officers to flee from Kunduz. The U.S. will continue its drone war in Afghanistan that has been successful in killing targeted Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants, but also killed hundreds of other people categorized in warfare as “collateral damage.”

An “endless war” — with no plan or strategy for stabilization of Afghanistan and dealing with rising security threats in Pakistan — deserves to end. With the threats of both ISIS and the Taliban growing, security in Afghanistan is likely to unravel further in the future. Without a strategy for effective counterinsurgency warfare in Afghanistan, the presence of a limited U.S. force there really doesn’t matter, including for the national security of the U.S. “I will not allow Afghanistan to be used as safe haven for terrorists to attack our nation again,” said President Obama.