There’s a growing trend in this administration in which the president tweets or gives voice to a set of policy guidelines, but the policy outcome from his administration is the exact opposite. This is because the president surrounds himself with political and military leaders who share the swampiest of swamp mentality — the very crowd he campaigned against last year and inveighs against to this very day. This is quite evident as it relates to Afghanistan, especially with all the conservatives fired from the West Wing.
As I noted last week, I agree with the broad rhetoric in Trump’s Afghanistan speech. We should focus only on our interests, transform from counter-insurgency to counter-terrorism, and use soft power to cut off funding and support for terror from Pakistan and other countries rather than trying to own the insufferable political problems of the country. But the policy he actually signed off on, both because of the reality in Afghanistan and the mindset of those championing and implementing it, is precisely the opposite of what he discussed: It’s an open-ended nation-building exercise in social work, endangering our troops in the worst form of combat, which we won’t control but the capricious Afghan government will.
The strategy in Afghanistan doesn’t add up
On the one hand, in order to buy support for indefinite continuation of the status quo, proponents of the plan dramatically downplay the American investment and risk in Afghanistan. They say we are only sending a few thousand soldiers, they are only there to advise, train, and mentor, and that the Afghanis will take control of their own destiny. Luke Coffey of the Heritage Foundation expressed as much in a column we published and noted that this is not like the combat operations in the Obama-era surges because “today the Afghans are in the lead.”
This is a scenario that doesn’t exist. It is a hypothetical situation in which we defeated the Taliban, we have a stable and trustworthy Afghan government that controls most of the country, and we just need a few thousand troops and a few more years to train up the Afghan security forces so they can retain the gains and we don’t risk throwing 16 years of investment and lives down the drain.
The truth, however, cannot be farther from that scenario, and everyone has admitted it.
Everyone agrees the Taliban control more ground than at any point since 9/11, with the ability to strike anywhere, including well outside the Pashtun areas. Everyone agrees that the Afghan army and government are as corrupt, divided, and infiltrated as ever before. Thus the risk of green-on-blue attacks (attacks on coalition forces by Afghan forces), which decimated our forces during the 2011 surge, is just as potent today. Just in June alone, 11 soldiers were killed or wounded by green-on-blue attacks.
Thus, Afghanistan is worse than ever before. And this is precisely why many feel an urgency to do something in the first place. After all, on June 13, Secretary Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee that “we are not winning in Afghanistan” and warned that “right now ... the enemy is surging,” and there is a “need for urgency.”
With this in mind, how can it be that a few thousand “advisors” and “mentors” will change a calculus that 150,000 coalition forces under the same General Mattis, as CENTCOM commander in 2011, couldn’t break through?
Who are we kidding? By default, this will be a continued massive nation-building mission, but one with no understanding of what the Afghan government can do or how they will do it. As Captain Jarrin Jackson, a company commander during the Obama-era surge, told us during a podcast, training Afghan security forces is the most dangerous job imaginable and is nothing but nation-building at every stage. Nothing has changed since then. The Afghan army needs American soldiers to procure basic supplies for it. The Afghans are just as compromised as ever before. Our soldiers are engaged in the most dangerous combat — counterinsurgency patrolling in villages where they are ambushed, often by the very forces they are “mentoring.”
This is why those who are closely involved in the McMaster axis in Washington are so giddy about the announcement. Max Boot, who clearly is in the know about what is actually being implemented, was honest about it. “Back to Nation Building in Afghanistan. Good!” was the title of his New York Times op-ed. John McCain and Lindsey Graham are ecstatic.
Again, if this was a plan involving a mere few thousand soldiers just engaging in counter-terrorism from outside the danger zone and not trying to hold together ground for counterinsurgency, why is the establishment foreign policy crowd so happy? Moreover, by definition, working with Afghans and having them lead the way is the opposite of counterterrorism; its counterinsurgency.
And as I mentioned before, it’s the worse form of combat. Our guys are stuck in the most vulnerable situations attempting to hold unholdable ground with soldiers who can shoot them, compromise their mission, or lead them into an ambush at any moment. And the much-vaunted government we are working with is currently negotiating with and infiltrated by the Taliban.
The problem in 2011 was that the Afghan government knew every operation ahead of time and somehow that information often got out to the enemy. This is likely how we suffered the worst tragedy in modern naval special warfare when we lost 25 special ops personnel, primarily members of Seal Team 6, just a few months after that team killed Bin Laden. A helicopter full of troops, in what later became known as “Extortion 17,” was shot out of the sky by an ambush, in which the enemy clearly knew our location. A similar insider attack occurred when a corrupt Afghani colonel lead an attack at a Kabul airport, which killed 8 U.S. airmen, the greatest loss of life for the air force since 2001.
The generals are the problem, not the solution
The same generals who failed us in Afghanistan for a generation, the same generals who are more political and politically correct than politicians, the same generals who covered up Extortion 17, are now the foxes guarding the henhouse. Mattis was commander of CENTCOM during the failed surge. Votel and Nicholson are part of the same crowd of generals Trump was expected to fire. At some point, we can’t blame everything on Obama when these people went along with it.
Remember, these are the same generals who went along with Obama’s social engineering, not only with women in all areas of infantry but with the transgender agenda. Now they are pushing back against Trump when he wants to end this nonsense. Some of you might feel uncomfortable criticizing generals on military strategy or harboring a thought that they don’t understand or care about our strategic interests or the lives of their troops. But their enthusiastic support, and even insistence on social engineering should put to rest any notion that these people are any different from left-wing politicians in Washington. This is a sad epidemic that has hurt our military leadership over the past generation. It is the reason many of us know flag officers who have left the service because they were so disgusted with the political correctness, social engineering, lack of strategic thinking, and even lack of basic understanding of the threats we face.
After all, McMaster refuses to even recognize the problems of Islamic supremacism, and Mattis thinks Israel is an apartheid state. How in the world could we go to battle or even identify an enemy with such a mindset? How can pro-transgender and pro-Muslim Brotherhood generals lead us to victory or even identify what victory looks like or what engagement serves our national interests?
Trump himself recognized this problem during the campaign. One of the boldest statements from Trump during the campaign, one which endeared him to many voters, was when he finally spoke the truth about the politicized generals. Trump declared at the Commander-In-Chief Forum last September that “generals have been reduced to rubble” and that “they have been reduced to a point where it’s embarrassing to our country.” Yet, not only has he failed to fire them, he has elevated some of them to top civilian posts. This is beyond Orwellian.
If Trump really meant to change direction in Afghanistan, he would first have fired those who broke our mission there and those who have turned our military into something that former Marine Jude Eden warned is “more ready for motherhood than for warfare.”
In reality, it would be better to choose the first 10 names in the telephone book to identify strategic interests in the Middle East than the current crop of generals. The only thing worse than not having a winning strategy in the Middle East is sending our troops into harm’s way without such a strategy, without even identifying the enemy and their threat doctrine.
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.