Say what you want about the merits of staying in or leaving Syria, but one reality that we can’t escape is that there’s nothing left for America to do in Afghanistan. President Trump’s announcement Wednesday that the United States will be departing from Syria serves as a good opportunity to re-evaluate the status of U.S. troop deployments overseas, chief among them the never-ending Afghanistan war.
Afghanistan is a total U.S. policy disaster for countless reasons. It began with the Bush administration’s post-September 11 mission to remove al Qaeda safe havens throughout the country. But once that threat was mitigated, the mission in Afghanistan quickly devolved into a multitrillion-dollar spending spree and democracy project of monumental proportions. Once the Taliban lost some of its grip over the country, we began manufacturing a new system of government in Kabul. U.S. policymakers completely ignored the tribal aspects of the country and attempted to reshape Afghanistan into a quasi-Jeffersonian democracy, while keeping the worst components of Afghan society (Sharia law, mass exploitation of women and children, favoring corrupt tribal leaders) as part of a centralized regime in Kabul, which has largely, but unsurprisingly, failed to have any influence outside of its city limits.
Then, instead of defeating our remaining enemies and sending our troops home, policymakers and American generals insisted that U.S. soldiers should stay there and risk their lives to build roads in remote areas, bridges to nowhere, and schools for children, all on the backs of the American taxpayer and all for the sake of the Afghan people. Simultaneously, Americans were stationed in remote, extremely dangerous, Taliban-infested areas of the country as part of a counterinsurgency mission, which sacrificed hundreds of American lives to test a questionable theory in an attempt to win over the hearts and minds of Afghans.
Meanwhile, every year, hundreds of American soldiers came home in body bags. And the casualty count continued into 2018. Nine American soldiers have died in Afghanistan since October. But instead of responding to the chaos and unnecessary tragedy by removing our best and bravest from harm’s way, U.S. military leaders insist that because so many American soldiers have died, that’s why we need to remain in the country, thereby justifying an endless cycle of dead Americans. Press releases from the Defense Department routinely proclaim that America must honor their sacrifice by continuing the mission (whatever that is, as it is not clearly defined) in Afghanistan.
In justifying the Afghanistan project, top American military and political officials continue to invoke a substantial threat to the homeland that isn’t real. They claim with certainty that jihadis operating in the wilds of Afghanistan — many of whom live in extreme poverty, relying on subsistence farming along with drug and human trafficking to make ends meet — are indeed capable of striking us from afar.
Top administration officials, such as Defense Secretary James Mattis, have leveraged the fear-based notion of a hypothetical attack on America to keep American soldiers in Afghanistan in perpetuity. Secretary Mattis has reportedly told the president that American troops need to be deployed in Afghanistan and elsewhere “to prevent a bomb from going off in Times Square.” U.S. Central Command’s Gen. Charles Votel proclaimed in February that the U.S. has “vital interests” in Afghanistan such as “protecting the homeland” and “securing our own prosperity.”
This could not be further from the truth. Unlike the Iranian regime, which has long-range ballistic missiles and a global network of terrorist proxies, the Taliban and other jihadis in Afghanistan do not have these dangerous, advanced resources. The Taliban is almost solely focused on taking back Afghanistan. While that reality is tragic for the people of Afghanistan, it’s not a cause worth one more American life.
We have been in Afghanistan for over 17 years. It’s time to leave. There is no American interest in Afghanistan.