If the war in Afghanistan is going so well after 16 years, shouldn’t we want to shout the good tidings from the rooftops?
The president’s “better judgment” on Afghanistan was correct; his decision to listen to the failed generals and double down on failure was wrong. It’s becoming clearer by the day that there is nothing a new mini-surge in Afghanistan can accomplish that a 150,000-troop surge from 2009 to 2013 failed to accomplish. We will continue wasting countless lives and tens of billions of much-needed cash promoting an incompetent and malevolent Afghan entity to fight an enemy that no longer affects us to hold together a mythical nation. Now, the Pentagon is demanding that the inspector general cover up the truth about the failed operation.
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has been a nonpartisan beacon of truth as the watchdog of the Afghanistan nation-building travesty by the administrations of both parties. Recently, SIGAR has come out with a series of devastating reports revealing the lies about the entire premise of who we are fighting for and what we expect to accomplish.
In the latest report, Inspector General John Sopko reveals that his office “has been specifically instructed not to release information marked ‘unclassified’ to the American taxpayer” concerning the percentage of the country now controlled by the Taliban. Mattis’ Pentagon had previously restricted information SIGAR could report regarding metrics of effectiveness of the Afghan forces, according to an October report. Now the administration is trying to clamp down on the publishing of how many districts the Taliban control, a metric SIGAR has been publishing since early 2016.
The Pentagon has contended in the past that such information helps enemy forces, but it’s quite obvious that the Taliban are well aware of which areas they control. The only ones left in the dark are taxpayers, military families, and most congressmen who do not have access to the classified information. They are now claiming it was a human error within the chain of command at NATO that caused them to classify a previously unclassified detail.
Here is the money quote from Sopko, as reported by Reuters in an exclusive interview:
“The implication is that I think the average American who reads our reports or reads your press accounts of it, has no meaningful ability to analyze how his money or her money is being spent on Afghanistan.”
As we’ve noted before, ending the $35-50 billion per year spent on the Afghanistan dumpster fire could solve the budget problem, in which conservatives who want to build the military are forced to agree to extra non-defense spending. This would free up funding without increasing overall spending. The problem is that in order to secure an agreement from Democrats on increased military spending, Republicans are planning to give them at least $63 billion more per year for non-defense bureaucracies.
My rough estimates show we’ve spent $38.5 billion on the military operation in Afghanistan in FY 2017, not including roughly $2 billion more in sundry aid and stimulus programs. And that was before we doubled our presence there. Sadly, all of the increased VA costs from the wounded American warriors are not even included in the cost of the war or even defense spending in general. Last year, 11 Americans were killed and 99 were wounded in Afghanistan.
It’s not surprising that we only heard one line about Afghanistan in Trump’s State of the Union, even as Trump’s administration is ramping up our involvement in more nation-building. There is no answer to the critical questions of what we are doing there, what we hope to accomplish, and why it affects us and does not drain resources from dealing with the bigger threats. The only answer the political class has is that “we can’t pull out.” But going on year 17 of this mission, that is no longer an acceptable answer.
President Trump was on the money before he became president, when he recognized the common sense of the issue nobody else was willing to articulate:
Let’s get out of Afghanistan. Our troops are being killed by the Afghanis we train and we waste billions there. Nonsense! Rebuild the USA.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 11, 2013
Trump promised last night not to “repeat the mistakes of the past administrations that got us into this dangerous position.” However, disengaging without victory is only a mistake when the conflict is in our national security interests. In this case, the mistake of the past was trying to own a 1200-year conflict, beyond simple acts of retribution for harboring 9/11 terrorists and counter-terrorism. This is the lesson we failed to learn in Iraq, and I fear we are now repeating it in Syria.
We can easily succeed in dislodging a regime or terror group from a command-and-control structure with airstrikes and a few special ops teams, as we did with ISIS and with the initial toppling of the Taliban. The problem is that, unless we are prepared to simply strike and maneuver as needed, we wind up owning unmanageable tribal warfare with endless occupation and on the hook for nation-building through insurgencies of the actual population these regimes or groups represent. The fact that we now have a second generation of soldiers dying for nothing there should be a wake-up call for a bipartisan demand for change.
There is no doubt that Trump still understands this. But the Pentagon cover-up of the inspector general report shows that the brass are likely distorting the reality on the ground in order to keep him from returning to his better judgment.
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.