Analysis: Losing a War

Editor’s note: This article was originally published by The Weekly Standard.

President Donald Trump opposes his own policy in Afghanistan. It shows.

Trump’s disdain for the war in Afghanistan had long been well known, so no one in the White House knew what he would decide to do about it in the summer of 2017. Multiple options were on the table in Trump’s freewheeling administration. The president had heard plans ranging from privatizing the war under the authority of military contractors, to a narrowly defined, CIA-led counterterrorism mission, to a more robust deployment of American forces, to a complete withdrawal. Finally, after months of debate, Trump decided that the U.S. military would stay in Afghanistan and ordered a modest increase of several thousand troops. The president was frustrated that his own advisers had talked him into this option, according to current and former administration officials familiar with the deliberations. Nonetheless, Trump grudgingly owned it.

On August 21, 2017, the president announced his decision during a speech at Fort Myer in Arlington, Virginia. “Our troops will fight to win,” he said. “We will fight to win.” The president recognized that “the American people are weary of war without victory,” yet he vowed this iteration of America’s longest war would be different. “The men and women who serve our nation in combat deserve a plan for victory,” the president said. “They deserve the tools they need, and the trust they have earned, to fight and to win.”

No one is talking about winning the war in Afghanistan these days. America hasn’t even been trying to win the war. “We do look toward a victory in Afghanistan,” Trump’s secretary of defense James Mattis said in March. Mattis then quickly clarified that this would not be a “military victory.” Instead, the “victory will be a political reconciliation” with the Taliban.

This is not what President Trump said in August 2017. In his speech announcing the policy, the president was openly skeptical that any such peace deal could be reached: “Someday, after an effective military effort, perhaps it will be possible to have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan, but nobody knows if or when that will ever happen.”

According to senior administration officials who spoke with The Weekly Standard at the time, that last phrase — “nobody knows if or when that will ever happen” — was Trump’s insertion. The president was wary of any strategy that hinged on the idea that a grand bargain with the Taliban was possible. He entertained only the possibility that “elements of the Taliban” could be convinced to lay down their arms — not the group’s senior leadership or the majority of the insurgents. Furthermore, the possible talks were to take place only “after an effective military effort.”

Despite Trump’s talk of winning, no such campaign ever materialized. There has been no effective military effort. The promises to furnish our warfighters with the tools they need to win — and a plan for victory — have gone unfulfilled. We are once again fighting not to lose. But we’re losing anyway.

The Taliban launched a massive offensive in Ghazni Province earlier this month. The jihadists ransacked parts of Ghazni’s capital city for several days before melting away into the countryside, much of which they already controlled. As Ghazni burned and its residents were sent fleeing, Resolute Support, the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan, claimed the city remained “under Afghan control” and Afghan forces were merely performing “clearing operations.” It was a scene reminiscent of Baghdad Bob telling reporters in 2003 that all was well, even as American-led forces easily dispensed with Saddam Hussein’s men. The Afghans and Americans established some semblance of normalcy in Ghazni after several days, but by then the Taliban was already rampaging through other areas, killing dozens of security personnel.

The lack of demonstrable success has caused U.S. military commanders to redefine victory. Some of them now contend that the war is a stalemate in which the Taliban is incapable of overrunning Afghanistan’s more populated areas. They sell this as progress. But they are seeing the conflict through rose-colored glasses. The insurgents are capable of mustering enough forces for offensives throughout the country at any time. The Taliban’s men contest or control approximately 60 percent of the country — as much ground as at any point since the U.S.-led invasion in late 2001. There is no reason to think they feel pressured to negotiate.

Trump preached patience in his speech a year ago, comparing his approach to President Obama’s. “Conditions on the ground — not arbitrary timetables — will guide our strategy from now on,” Trump said. This was a rebuke to Obama’s decision simultaneously to announce a surge in troops and a timetable for their withdrawal in December 2009. Military commanders knew that this created an incentive for the jihadists to wait America out, and that’s what they did. Trump also pointed out that President Obama “hastily and mistakenly withdrew from Iraq” in 2011, thereby paving the way for the rise of the Islamic State, or ISIS.

But Trump, like his predecessor, signaled his doubts about the war in announcing his commitment to win it. “My original instinct was to pull out — and, historically, I like following my instincts,” he explained.

Trump is an instinctive president — and an impatient one. Sensing that time is short, some administration officials are now attempting to negotiate a face-saving deal with the Taliban, one that allows America to leave without the appearance of having lost. Multiple news outlets in recent weeks have reported that the White House has given the go-ahead for direct talks with the jihadists.

This effort will almost certainly fail — as it did under Barack Obama. One year after the president’s announcement of a new Afghanistan policy, it’s increasingly clear that the current approach to Afghanistan isn’t a radical departure from Obama’s but mostly a continuation of it.

A DIPLOMATIC FIASCO

In the months after President Obama’s inauguration in January 2009, the White House conducted a review of America’s war in Afghanistan, led by Bruce Riedel, a former intelligence official and Obama campaign adviser. Riedel’s policy review concluded that attempting to negotiate with the Taliban’s senior leadership would be foolhardy. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s team pressed on anyway. The initial efforts were led by Richard Holbrooke, the longtime American diplomat who had played an instrumental role in negotiating an end to the Bosnian war. Holbrooke, who died in December 2010, tried to play the same peacemaking role in Afghanistan. He did not succeed; nor did those who came after him. The story of their failure is set out in Clinton’s own memoir Hard Choices, as well as in Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Steve Coll, a veteran journalist who is currently dean of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

In 2010, Secretary Clinton adhered to a series of preconditions for talks with the Taliban, insisting: “They must renounce violence; they must abandon their alliance with al Qaeda; and they must abide by the constitution of Afghanistan.” These had been the Bush administration’s original preconditions for talks with the Taliban. There was no chance the jihadists would meet any of these demands. So in a February 2011 speech, Clinton revised America’s terms, converting these preconditions — requirements for the talks to take place at all — into “necessary outcomes” of negotiations. Clinton and others have presented this as a “nuanced change,” but it was, in reality, a concession – one of several America was willing to make just to get someone from the Taliban, anyone, to the negotiating table. That the Taliban understood it as a sign of weakness would be clear soon enough.

At first, the Americans and the Afghans couldn’t even find a legitimate Taliban emissary to engage, as multiple frauds presented themselves as dealmakers. One of the first supposed liaisons said he was Mullah Mansour, an influential powerbroker within the Taliban. The United States and its allies paid “Mansour” $150,000 and escorted him around Afghanistan as if he were a central character in the war. The Americans eventually figured out that this Mansour was an impostor. The real Mullah Mansour would never agree to peace with the Americans — he was a stalwart ally of al Qaeda who openly referred to Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri as the “heroes” of this age. After the Taliban admitted in July 2015 that its founder, Mullah Omar, had passed away unnoticed more than two years earlier, Mansour was named Omar’s successor. The Obama administration droned the genuine Mansour to death in May 2016 after concluding, correctly, that he was no peace partner.

Clinton’s team did finally find a legitimate emissary — a man who fleeced the State Department by extracting further concessions but delivered nothing in return. That man was Syed Tayyab Agha, a personal representative of Mullah Omar. When State began talking with Agha in 2010, Omar was still alive, though it isn’t clear that he was running the Taliban’s day-to-day operations. The State Department was optimistic about talks with Agha, even giving him the nickname “A-Rod,” like the baseball player Alex Rodriguez, because he was considered so valuable. Clinton’s State Department quickly began to pursue “confidence-building measures” with “A-Rod.” In this context, “confidence-building measures” was just diplospeak for “unilateral American concessions.”

In Hard Choices, Clinton lists some modest “confidence-building measures” the United States wanted the Taliban to undertake. “We wanted the Taliban to make public statements disassociating themselves from al Qaeda and international terrorism and committing to participate in a peace process with [Afghan president Hamid] Karzai and his government,” Clinton writes. That’s it — nothing beyond some messages distancing the group from a terrorist organization that had killed thousands of Americans, and a vague promise to talk about peace with the Afghan government. The lowest of low bars. Yet no such statements were forthcoming, nor have there been any in the years since. If anything, the Taliban has more openly cherished its relationship with al Qaeda. In December 2016, the Taliban even released a video, Bond of Nation with the Mujahideen, which celebrated their ongoing alliance with Osama bin Laden’s group. It didn’t matter that the Taliban wouldn’t rhetorically distance itself from al Qaeda, though, Clinton’s State Department was willing to grant some of the group’s key demands anyway.

Talking with the Taliban meant that Washington would be negotiating with terrorists. Indeed, some of the jihadists were formally designated as such by the U.N., a black mark that significantly limited their ability to travel outside of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Clinton’s State Department was willing to fix that problem for the Taliban, by working to have terrorists redefined as non-terrorists. “As a first step, we agreed to begin working with the United Nations to remove a few key Taliban members from the terrorist sanctions list, which imposed a travel ban,” Clinton writes. The State Department went even further. “Soon the U.N. Security Council agreed to split the Taliban and al Qaeda lists and treat them separately — a direct manifestation of the distinction drawn in my [February 2011] speech — which gave us considerably more flexibility,” Clinton explains.

The former secretary of state further justified this bifurcation of the al Qaeda and the Taliban terror designation lists with a specious argument. Like Obama, Clinton drew a firm line of demarcation between al Qaeda and the Taliban, arguing it was only the former “who attacked us on 9/11,” while the latter “were Afghan extremists waging an insurgency against the government in Kabul.” Clinton claimed in Hard Choices that to “understand our strategy, it was important for Americans to be clear about the difference.”

In reality, there is no such clear difference. The Taliban harbored al Qaeda before 9/11 and continued to do so afterwards. Just days before the hijackings, the Taliban and al Qaeda launched a joint military offensive against the Northern Alliance. This maneuver, which included al Qaeda’s assassination of Northern Alliance commander Ahmed Shah Massoud on September 9, 2001, was intended to weaken a key American ally in advance of the attacks on New York and Washington. Numerous pieces of evidence attest to the fact that al Qaeda has invested substantial resources in the Taliban-led insurgency in the years since then. Al Qaeda couldn’t be any clearer about this, as its leaders’ statements and official documents regularly state that the resurrection of the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is their principal goal in South Asia. Elsewhere in Hard Choices, Clinton concedes that the Taliban “had close ties with al Qaeda,” but this simple observation had to be denied to justify the new “peace process.” Throughout her February 2011 speech, Clinton struggled to separate the two in the minds of her audience. She claimed the “Taliban and al Qaeda are distinct groups with distinct aims,” but in the very next phrase conceded “they are both our adversaries and part of a syndicate of terror that must be broken.” She also said the Taliban’s militants had the opportunity to stop “fighting a losing struggle alongside al Qaeda in bombed-out caves” — an implicit recognition that they are, in fact, U.S. enemies with at least some of the same aims. Despite its specious reasoning, the Obama administration’s revisionist history of the Taliban continues to hold great sway inside the U.S. government, according to senior officials who spoke with The Weekly Standard.

The Taliban had two other concessions it wanted from the United States. The Taliban requested permission to open a political office in Doha, Qatar, and asked for the release of several key commanders from the American detention facility at Guantánamo Bay. The Obama administration gave in on both. Despite being a nominal American ally, Qatar is one of the Taliban’s most important foreign backers, providing a cozy environment in which Taliban fundraisers can solicit donations for the ongoing jihad. The U.S. government knew this when the Taliban requested a formal presence in Doha.

The Taliban broke away from the talks in 2012 and the United States was desperate to restart them in 2013. But first, the Taliban wanted its office in Doha. In Directorate S, Coll explains that American officials prepared a memorandum of understanding that was to be signed by President Obama and the emir of Qatar. The memo stipulated that the Taliban “could not command or control the insurgency in Afghanistan from the Qatar office,” “issue propaganda from there,” or raise funds. Crucially, the Taliban’s Doha representatives would have to agree not to call themselves the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA). The IEA was the Taliban’s totalitarian regime, which ruled over all of Afghanistan prior to the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. By describing themselves as the IEA, the Taliban would be saying that the current Afghan government — America’s chief ally in the war and its ostensible partner in the proposed good-faith negotiations — was illegitimate. General Douglas Lute, Obama’s special assistant and senior coordinator for Afghanistan and Pakistan on the National Security Council, and his team proposed that the Taliban instead refer to the Doha facility as the “Political Office of the Afghan Taliban.” As opening day came closer, according to Coll, Washington abandoned the memorandum of understanding because the “effort to finalize all the documents for the Qatar grand opening proved to be a grind.” In its place, Obama penned a letter to Afghan president Hamid Karzai in which he offered the same guarantees the memo was supposed to have provided. Among them: The Taliban wouldn’t call itself the IEA.

“All along,” Coll writes, “the idea had been that the Taliban would issue a public statement when the office in Qatar opened, repudiating Al Qaeda and terrorism in some fashion.” Jeff Hayes, a Defense Intelligence Agency analyst assigned to the National Security Council, even helpfully “copied and pasted language” from messages previously written in Mullah Omar’s name. Hayes’s new ghostwritten statement from Mullah Omar was to be issued by the Taliban on its “big day,” the opening of its office in Doha.

On June 18, 2013, the Americans celebrated the Doha announcement as a watershed moment in U.S.-Taliban relations. An official brought champagne into the State Department to mark the occasion, which some viewed, according to Coll, as a “diplomatic breakthrough that might yet reduce Afghanistan’s violence and end some of its suffering.” That didn’t happen. The Americans were humiliated.

The whole affair quickly proved to be, in Coll’s words, a “fiasco” and “an episode of remarkable diplomatic incompetence.” Al Jazeera had its cameras well positioned for the moment when the Taliban unveiled a sign that read: “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.” The IEA’s flag flew high above the Doha office. “F—,” Lute said. As Coll explains, the Taliban had “blatantly violated” the assurances Obama provided to Karzai, who subsequently “waved around the guarantee letter Obama had sent him, to illustrate that no guarantee of the United States could ever be trusted.”

The Taliban didn’t read Hayes’s memo or any other statement renouncing terrorism. Mullah Omar had quietly died two months before, in April 2013. The Pakistanis, who presumably knew Omar was dead, didn’t bother to tell the Americans. “None of the Americans involved” in the diplomatic effort “had a clue” about Omar’s passing, Coll writes. The Taliban continued to play Weekend at Bernie’s with Omar for two more years, only conceding in July 2015 that he was dead. Throughout this entire time, the Americans didn’t know who the real leader of the Taliban was. It appears that Mullah Mansour — not the phony one who bilked America and its allies — was running the show behind the scenes the whole time.

The Taliban wasn’t done extracting concessions. Agha, or “A-Rod,” had made it clear throughout his talks with the Americans that the Taliban wanted certain commanders freed. “The Taliban’s top concern seemed to be the fate of its fighters being held at Guantánamo Bay and other prisons,” Clinton wrote in Hard Choices. “In every discussion about prisoners, we demanded the release of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who had been captured in June 2009. There would not be any agreement about prisoners without the sergeant coming home.”

Though the proposed swap for Bergdahl arose during Clinton’s tenure, which ended in early 2013, it wasn’t finalized until May 2014. In exchange for Bergdahl, who subsequently pleaded guilty to deserting his fellow soldiers, five hardened jihadists were freed from Guantánamo and transferred to Qatar. Two of them were suspected of committing war crimes in Afghanistan prior to 9/11. According to leaked threat assessments prepared by Joint Task Force Guantánamo, all five had significant ties to al Qaeda prior to their detention.

During remarks delivered in the Rose Garden on May 31, 2014, President Obama heralded Bergdahl’s imminent return. Obama thanked the governments of Afghanistan and Qatar for their support and assistance in arranging the Bergdahl-Taliban Five exchange. He also connected the move to the failed peace talks. “Going forward, the United States will continue to support an Afghan-led process of reconciliation, which could help secure a hard-earned peace within a sovereign and unified Afghanistan,” Obama said. It was an announcement of American weakness — an uneven prisoner swap between the world’s superpower and its jihadist enemies, touted by the president as a hopeful step in peace talks that existed only in the minds of his diplomats. Two and a half years later, when Obama left office, the reconciliation process was still moribund.

There is another humiliating twist in this story. Files recovered in Osama bin Laden’s compound show that Syed Tayyab Agha — “A-Rod” — had been communicating with senior al Qaeda leaders around the same time he was meeting with the State Department’s representatives. It will take some time to piece together the contents of this correspondence, which is scattered among multiple file folders. But one file, released by the CIA on November 1, 2017, reveals that Agha raised money for al Qaeda. The records show a transfer of proceeds from a donor (presumably in the Gulf) through Agha and into al Qaeda’s coffers. It’s no wonder the Obama administration and its allies in the intelligence bureaucracy fought hard to keep the files from public view.

The Obama administration’s dance with the Taliban is a near-perfect picture of diplomatic failure: The Taliban dangled the prospect of talks to extract concessions while offering nothing of value in return. At first, the United States and its allies fell for Taliban impostors. Secretary Clinton abandoned America’s preconditions for the talks, recasting them instead as the goals of an imagined “peace process.” Just for the opportunity to talk, Clinton’s State Department agreed to have some Taliban figures removed from the U.N.’s list of sanctioned terrorists and to split the Taliban and al Qaeda designation lists under the phony assertion that the groups are wholly separate. A Taliban emissary who raised funds for al Qaeda paved the way for the opening of a political office in Qatar, which the Taliban used to embarrass the United States. The Taliban also secured the release of five of its hardened commanders, three of whom served the organization at its highest levels prior to being detained at Guantánamo. Throughout all of this, the Taliban never issued a single statement renouncing al Qaeda or terrorism — one of the few “confidence-building measures” sought by the American side.

In return, the Obama administration secured the release of Bowe Bergdahl — a deserter.

A ‘PEACE PROCESS’ WITH THE TALIBAN

The Obama administration’s attempts to negotiate with the Taliban will be remembered as among the most embarrassing episodes in the history of American diplomacy. So why is the Trump administration going down the same path?

It’s a question worth exploring at length. But one answer suggests itself: Trump, like Obama, was never committed to winning in Afghanistan.

Incredibly, Trump’s State Department has picked up where Obama’s left off. Testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on June 20, Ambassador Alice Wells, the State Department’s senior bureau official for South and Central Asian Affairs, presented an optimistic forecast. Wells conceded there would be “obstacles and unanticipated setbacks,” but she nonetheless argued there is a “real opportunity this year to start an Afghan peace process that could lead to a durable settlement of the conflict.”

Wells couldn’t point to any concrete statements from the Taliban to this effect. (The group’s public rhetoric is deeply problematic for anyone arguing that peace is around the corner.) She pointed to vague “signs that the Taliban’s Pakistan-based leaders are debating the merits of joining a peace process.” Wells claimed, hopefully, that the Taliban hadn’t responded to Afghan president Ashraf Ghani’s call for “unconditional talks” earlier this year. But that isn’t really true. The Taliban has said, consistently and publicly, that Ghani’s government, like Karzai’s, is illegitimate. They have declared that they will not negotiate with the “puppet” regime. But the Taliban has reportedly engaged the Americans in recent months. Why wouldn’t they? The jihadists are better negotiators. They expect to win.

Wells also restated Clinton’s goals for the prospective talks, the same ones that were preconditions, until the Obama administration realized there wasn’t any chance the Taliban would agree to them before a sit-down. “Our desired outcomes for any peace process are clear and have not changed,” Wells testified. “The Taliban must renounce violence, break ties with al Qaeda, and accept the Afghan constitution — including its protections for women and minorities.” Those were Hillary Clinton’s “necessary outcomes” in February 2011, when the United States had approximately 100,000 troops in the field. The Taliban did not acquiesce then. There is no reason to think it will do so now, when there are fewer than 20,000 American soldiers in the country. Regardless, Wells has reportedly met with Taliban liaisons in recent weeks.

U.S. officials are, once again, seeing what they want to see. On June 7, President Ghani announced a unilateral ceasefire. The Americans gushed over the move, with General John Nicholson, who oversees the U.S.-led war effort, declaring it a “bold initiative for peace.” The Taliban ordered its own short-lived ceasefire — lasting just three days, far shorter than Ghani’s — but it was quick to say that this wasn’t in response to the Afghan government’s moves. In fact, the Taliban referred to the Afghan government’s men as “domestic opposition forces” — meaning that they oppose the legitimate government, the Taliban’s own Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. The Taliban’s leaders quickly rejected Ghani’s request to prolong the ceasefire, resuming its attacks on the “internal puppets.” In the weeks that followed, the Taliban hunted down Afghan personnel and overran a handful of districts before going on the offensive in Ghazni. The ceasefire did prove, however, that the Taliban leads a unified fighting force, with command-and-control over foot soldiers throughout the country. This dispels the myth, common in Western analytic circles, that the group lacks a well-functioning hierarchy.

Some American officials, including General Nicholson, have claimed that the Taliban has offered its own roadmap for peace. They cite an open letter published by the Taliban’s propagandists on February 14. That top U.S. officials have chosen to depict this letter as a reason for hope suggests just how grim the situation really is. The letter includes multiple condemnations of the United States. The Taliban reiterates that its Islamic Emirate is the only “legitimate” authority and demands that the United States end its “illegitimate occupation.” Only then, after America has left Afghanistan or committed itself to doing so, could there be “peaceful dialogue.” In other words, the Taliban is willing to negotiate the terms of its own victory.

The Trump administration risks undermining the Afghan government, just as Obama-era officials did. Everyone involved in planning the talks insists that they be “Afghan-led” — a recognition that there is no end game for the war without a sovereign Afghan government in place. But the Taliban insists it will not negotiate with President Ghani or his liaisons. Thus, by talking with the Taliban directly and without Ghani’s representatives present, American officials may be unintentionally strengthening the Taliban’s claims on power.

Following the precedent set during the Obama years, the U.S. government continues to downplay the Taliban’s relationship with al Qaeda. In June, the Defense Department released its latest congressionally mandated report on the war, “Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan.” The Pentagon report claims, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, that “there is no evidence of strategic ties between” the Taliban and al Qaeda, only some “lower and mid-level” cooperation. It’s an absurd claim but it raises an obvious question: Why doesn’t the Taliban just renounce al Qaeda then? The Obama administration begged it to do so for years. It would be simple for the Taliban to release a statement distancing itself from al Qaeda, even if it didn’t mean it. This would be an easy way to extract still more concessions from the Americans. Yet the Taliban has not done it.

Why? Perhaps the relationship is more significant than the Pentagon wants us to think. Indeed, al Qaeda’s alliance with the Taliban is the most strategic relationship Ayman al Zawahiri’s organization has. In 2016, Zawahiri swore his personal fealty to the Taliban’s emir, Hibatullah Akhund­zada. This continued a longstanding tradition, as Osama bin Laden pledged his loyalty to Mullah Omar prior to the 9/11 attacks. Zawahiri also swore his allegiance to Mullah Omar and then to Omar’s successor, Mullah Mansour. This blood oath is deadly serious for the jihadists. Thousands of al Qaeda members around the globe owe their loyalty to Akhundzada by virtue of Zawahiri’s bayat (oath of allegiance) to the Taliban leader. Al Qaeda’s men, operating everywhere from West Africa to South Asia, have publicly recognized Zawahiri and Akhundzada as their leaders. What could be more strategic than that?

As Zawahiri’s bayat suggests, Akhundzada is a committed jihadist. In the summer of 2017, Akhundzada’s son blew himself up in a “martyrdom” operation in southern Afghanistan. Yet some Trump administration officials believe they can forge peace by negotiating with representatives of a man who willingly sacrificed his child for the cause and has won the loyalty of al Qaeda’s leaders.

There’s more: The Taliban’s No. 2 is Siraj Haqqani, a known al Qaeda ally. Osama bin Laden’s files make it clear that al Qaeda has long cooperated with Haqqani and his men on Afghanistan’s battlefields. This is not a low-level tie. Haqqani oversees the Taliban’s military operations. The U.S. government has long known that Haqqani’s men wear two hats, serving both the Taliban and al Qaeda. A series of terrorist designations by the U.S. government has exposed this overlap. In January, for instance, the Treasury Department designated Haqqani facilitator Gula Khan Hamidi as a terrorist, noting that he also worked with al Qaeda. Another jihadist designated by Treasury in January, Maulawi Inayatullah, has served the Taliban in various serious roles. He has been the “overall Taliban member responsible for attacks against Afghan and Coalition Forces in Kabul” and has also been in charge of the Taliban’s operations in “multiple Afghan provinces.” Treasury’s analysts found that Inayatullah gave a “large sum of money” to al Qaeda.

There are numerous other ties one could cite along these lines. In recent weeks, Afghan forces have hunted down al Qaeda fighters supporting the Taliban’s insurgency. And according to Afghan officials, the Taliban’s massive assault on Ghazni earlier this month relied on foreign fighters, at least some of whom were presumably from al Qaeda’s newest branch: Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent. The Pentagon report ignores this evidence in order to justify a settlement with the Taliban.

AMERICA ADRIFT IN AFGHANISTAN

The United States lost its bearings in Afghanistan long ago. Some of the Taliban’s most senior leaders escaped in late 2001, as did Osama bin Laden. They eventually regrouped and launched an insurgency that continues to engulf Afghanistan in violence. The Bush administration entered the war with a light footprint that was supposed to demonstrate the overwhelming technological superiority of American forces. The Taliban openly ridicules this view in its statements. The Bush administration added more soldiers to the fight over time, but the war effort was always secondary to other concerns.

President Obama and his advisers made a conscious decision to treat the Taliban as the Afghan government’s enemy — not ours. In 2014, Obama unilaterally declared an end to America’s combat role, a pronouncement that had to be reversed. During Obama’s final years in office, the U.S. military also operated under absurdly restrictive rules of engagement. The American mission has been devoted, in large part, to training Afghans to fight and eventually defeat the Taliban. Think about it this way: America has been fighting a war in which it has often sought to avoid direct confrontation with its principal enemy.

During his confirmation hearing on June 19, Lieutenant General Austin S. Miller was asked by Senator Angus King if the Taliban is our enemy. Miller, who is assuming command of the U.S.-led war effort, struggled to respond. He noted that the “Taliban had previously hosted and tolerated al Qaeda,” but claimed “they have now said that that would not be part of their future policy.” Miller sourced his claim to “statements by them” but failed to offer supporting evidence. There is a reason for this: Taliban leaders have never said any such thing.

The United States has asked the Taliban to make such a statement for nearly a decade. If the group had ever said anything remotely like this, the U.S. government would have broadcast the development far and wide. It simply hasn’t happened. The closest the Taliban has come is a statement claiming that it has “no agenda” to play “any destructive role in any other country” and it has “proven over the past seventeen years that we have not interfered in any other country.” But this is a lie — Taliban-hosted al Qaeda training camps continue to allow Zawahiri’s jihadists to operate throughout South Asia.

President Trump inherited this mess. It’s understandable he’d want to wash his hands of it. But Trump has also had the opportunity to reform the American mission since early 2017. The president loosened the rules of engagement. The air campaign has expanded dramatically, with thousands more bombs being dropped than in years past. For the first time in years, for example, American and allied forces have been allowed to directly target the Taliban’s extensive narcotics trafficking network.

But even under Trump, the U.S. military has not been fighting the Taliban like it is America’s enemy. The additional troops deployed to Afghanistan in the last year have been focused on training and assisting Afghan forces. U.S. forces are not leading ground campaigns deep into the heart of Taliban country, at least not regularly. And the Afghans — constantly plagued by corruption, defections, and poor leadership — are not capable of taking the fight to the Taliban on their own. Afghanistan’s counterterrorism and special forces have become more effective, but it is not enough. Not only have they failed to stymie the Taliban, they haven’t neutralized a persistent Islamic State presence. The United States and Afghanistan have led a focused counterterrorism mission against Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s diehards, but they just won’t die — not enough of them anyway. Despite numbering far fewer than the Taliban’s fighters, the Islamic State’s “martyrs” regularly strike in Kabul, Jalalabad, and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the Taliban is waiting to reclaim its Islamic Emirate. Akhundzada, recently told his men to prepare to rule over more ground in the near future. The jihadists likely view an American retreat as a foregone conclusion.

Though President Trump has been tougher on Pakistan than his predecessor, some of the Taliban’s most senior leaders still patiently plot from the territory of our erstwhile ally. “We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond,” he said in his August 21, 2017, speech. “Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with our effort in Afghanistan. It has much to lose by continuing to harbor criminals and terrorists.”

In keeping with this stern warning, the Trump administration has withheld funds, designated additional Pakistan-based facilitators as terrorists, and chastised Pakistani officials for inaction. It is possible that this has had some effect behind closed doors, but it certainly hasn’t changed Pakistan’s overall behavior. Moreover, America is generally unwilling to target senior Taliban leaders inside Pakistan. The last time the United States killed a Taliban leader inside Pakistan was in May 2016. This safe haven has been crucial, allowing much of the Taliban’s leadership to operate with impunity.

Whatever good those steps have done, our desperately seeking talks with terrorists — and setting aside facts on the ground to do so — emboldens America’s enemies in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The Taliban can only view the Trump administration’s attempts to negotiate as further evidence that the president’s patience is running out. While it is a long shot, it may be the case that the Taliban is willing to agree to a Vietnam-style deal in which the United States is afforded an orderly withdrawal. If that happens, Americans should know this: Their leaders lost the original 9/11 war.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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40 Comments

  • Nick Mastrovito says:

    Pretty obvious that nobody @LWJ has a clue about COIN. COIN cannot only be an external warfighting strategy. It must include the will of the indigenous populace to adopt the policies of a competent and ethical government. This must be accomplished with competent and ethical security forces. We’re barely at competent security forces….still have a long way to go.

    Here’s an idea- offer suggestions on how we win versus criticize every word and action that comes from the US or Afghan govts. Are you guys getting paid by al Qaeda and the Taliban?

    • Bill Roggio says:

      What “COIN” is being fought in Afghanistan, Nick? The Afghan military is in an defensive posture and has been for a year now, despite what US commanders and the Afghan military leadership is telling you. Do you realize that “COIN” has been on the outs since 2012? That it has been effectively purged from the US military?

      For the record, I know quite a bit about COIN. I watched it be implemented effectively in Iraq from 2005-2008, in Anbar, Baghdad, and Mosul. So don’t lecture me about it.

      Here’s an idea: let’s recognize that we have a very real problem on our hands, and lying about it doesn’t help anything. Before you go to fix a problem you need to recognize you have one. Our government and military have their heads in the sand.

      Your comment about LWJ “getting paid by al Qaeda and the Taliban” is ridiculous on its face. Make it again, and you are no longer welcome here.

    • AN says:

      What a ridiculous comment. The US is almost at 17 years in Afghanistan, the war is unwinnable.

      • Tony says:

        We should negotiate and make peace. Im sure both sides want peace..

        • KW64 says:

          Actually Tony, the Taliban wants victory and Al Qaeda wants a base for further war. Many Americans do not insist on peace. They just want out peace or no peace. But wars do not end until your enemy decides to end it as well. We also do not have secure supply lines. Pakistan or Russia can close us off. That is not a good formula for success. But if you think leaving afghanistan to Al Qaeda will be the end of things, think again. They will train lots of new fighters in a safe base there and make lots of money growing and selling drugs there to fund their worldwide operations. This is indeed a long war, there are no short cuts to ending it.

    • john Barr says:

      Afghanistan will probably go the way it’s always gone because it’s geography has defined it’s history, which is steeped in blood and chaos. It’s a Muslim country and it’s future will be shaped by the level of Islamisation – or rather Islamic militancy – which has taken root. The religious and mystical significance of Aghanistan is equally overlooked by policy makers who view the country through a secular and ammoral prism.

      Islamisation will be a challenge for future Western governments let alone a country next door to Pakistan and the epicentre of global jihad.

      Although I’m inclined to agree with LWJ’s general analyses, it also obvious that the situation cannot be resolved by military means alone. Perhaps the key is to attempt to tone down the level of militancy? GIRoA is perceived to be a weak and divided puppet government driven by corruption. So the other question policy makers have to consider is how long can this be propped up by the West?

      It is possible that the rise of IS-Khurasan is one thing that could possibly tone the level of militancy within the Taliban; and possibly has already. Why? Because the Taliban like to decide the rules, and frequently change them to suit contingencies. For instance, harvesting poppies to produce narcotics for profit was frowned upon; then it helped to fund their war.

      Now, some other more extreme group telling them what they have to adhere to religiously isn’t necessarily going to work for them. It might drive them in a slightly different direction. I’m aware of the different factions supporting the Taliban, too; Russia, Iran, China. Russia is using the Taliban to counter IS; even if not necessarily in our favour (they’re apparently even screwing up itineraries for potential talks). Great Game indeed. But it’s going to go the way it goes, especially with the new players on the block.

      This war can’t necessarily be won by military means alone, and some sort of political solution is essential. Though equally, the US and her allies should perhaps box more cleverly and not be seen to be so eager to appease. Divide and rule by highlighting inconsistencies and contradictions, especially within the realms of religious ideology. Moreover, in this part of the perceptions are everthing and weakness is just not tolerated, which is interpreted as fair game for exploitation. JWB from Kabul.

      • tuffsnotenuff says:

        “Box more cleverly” summarizes American optimization technology.

        On the other hand a general can let his thinking follow the facts on the ground. For example:

        — You’re unlikely to win a whole-population guerrilla war unless you learn the local languages.

        — Afghanistan has been a tracking war since Taliban went to ground during 2002. Yet Army and Marines both refuse to use bloodhounds, going with somebody’s cousin’s line of Belgian shepherds. (With Bloodies there’s no such thing as a cold trail.)

        — Taliban has paid $150-$300 a month for their mercenaries. Army and Marines fight that with $3,000,000/year Americans and what they can get for Afghans.

        — The Ghan has its own rules.

  • Birbal Dhar says:

    I think we are not hurting the source, which is Pakistan, the country that still supports the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network. If the Americans imposed full sanctions on Pakistan I’m sure the Taliban will be forced to do peace talks by the ISI. Afghanistan is sadly bordered by countries like Iran and Pakistan who do not want stability, as that means permanent American personnel and a regime that would dispute the Durand Line in Pakistan and be close to India.

  • Paddy Singh says:

    One can force feed someone who is on hunger strike, but can American foreign policy makers be force fed with basic intelligence? They have not learnt anything after being defeated in Vietnam, Somalia, the Latin American countries and now Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. The latest addition is Yemen. If one has to describe a loser, say ‘yankee’.

  • James says:

    The way I see it, there is no strictly military solution to this. Why? Because it’s not a military problem in the first place. This is a problem of strategy. The military can only go so far. Our troops are not miracle workers. The generals have to follow orders and deal with the hand that has been dealt to them.

    Everything Obama did needs to be undone. It looks to me like what Trump has done is basically kept the overall Obama strategy. That needs to change and drastically so. Just do the exact opposite of everything that Obama did and I guarantee you you’ll get better results.

    In the meantime, we need a division (approx. 37,000) of troops over there. Trump didn’t increase the troop numbers enough. I feared that right from the start.

    We need to go after the opium trade. We don’t need to destroy it, we need to take it over. Why not seize the opium, sell it to the major pharmaceutical companies, and have them convert it to methadone? That’s just a rough draft idea of what to do.

    I believe that the game-changer in this thing hinges on how we can manipulate the opium trade. Go after the opium trade, CIA. Just follow the opium trail. There’s our ‘Hail Mary’ play in this thing.

    • James says:

      I need to clarify one thing I said in my above post. I said we need to ‘seize’ their opium crop. I shouldn’t have used the word ‘seize’. Let them grow their opium. It’s what happens with it after it’s harvested that matters. We need to out bid (or pay more) than what the black market is paying for it. Then sell it to the pharmaceutical companies (force them to buy it if need be) to be converted (for instance) to methadone. The treatment for heroine addiction comes from the same source as the source of the addiction itself. Just my own ideas on the matter. What I can’t understand is why the heck hasn’t anyone else considered this?

    • Moose says:

      I agree that we should take over the opium trade, but it won’t be a game-changer. The Taliban have multiple revenue sources to make up the loss. ISIS in Iraq and Syria didn’t have opium and they survived.

    • Michael Stang says:

      With all due respect, James, the CIA is the opium trade. Does anyone still seriously consider the dynasties of monsters with names like Shackley, Dulles, and Wisner dissolved in a back room, ending a long night of poker?

    • Rob says:

      The idea of taking over the opium trade and selling it would not work. This has been addressed by policy experts at length:
      //www.usip.org/publications/2014/09/licensing-afghan-opium-medicinal-use

      The U.S. DEA and Afghan Counter-Narcotics Police, as well as the FBI all had a plan to arrest and extradite kingpin drug traffickers, Taliban commanders and corrupt Afghan officials to the USA to stand trial, in Operation Reciprocity. But members of the State Department under Obama, shut it down. Why? Because they were afraid it would screw with their fantasy negotiations, and embarrass and further destroy relations with Karzai. A former DEA agent wrote a whole book about it that got published back in February:

      //www.amazon.com/IDEOLOGY-POLITICAL-CORRECTNESS-TRUMP-REALITY/dp/1980707332/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535661093&sr=8-1-fkmr0&keywords=How+Political+correctness+trumps

      The U.S. needs to re-focus it’s efforts in two ways:
      1.) A long-term, yet light footprint effort by US SOF personnel, as well as State Department teams to go into rural areas and build legitimacy of the Afghan people among the rural areas. That is where the Taliban draws it’s strength and support from.
      2.) A long-term commitment to anti-corruption and accountability from the Afghan government.

      Without addressing corruption in the government, we will fail.

  • Relative to “safe-havens” no one has ever controlled the Pak-Afghan border. The Brits tried for about 100 years and finally gave up, establishing the tribal areas that basically let the tribes govern themselves. And the Pakistanis cant or never will, even if they wanted to.

  • Issac Jones says:

    This war can’t be won on the battlefield. That is easier said than done though. The Afghan and US governments seem to be oblivious of the Taliban’s rhetoric. The Taliban are the strong ones in the negotiating table. They have put a lot of pressure on the Afghan government and they have managed to capture a lot of territory. The only other way to reduce their position in the negotiating table is to put pressure on them militarily. But the Afghan Army can’t fight their way out of a wet paper bag.

  • Michael Rhodes says:

    Sometimes fate deals you a losing hand. When the other players keep calling your bluff it’s better to fold than to keep raising the stakes. Unfortunately, American Presidents have been too prideful to admit that the deck was always stacked against them, and would rather pretend to odds are always just about to shift in their favor.

  • reason1984 says:

    The best summary of the reality on the ground in Afghanistan that I have read in 17 years.

  • Baz says:

    America is probably now at the same stage in the Afghan war as it was in Vietnam in about 1972. So now that the war is definitely lost forever, there is no hope now for the US.
    “While it is a long shot, it may be the case that the Taliban is willing to agree to a Vietnam-style deal in which the United States is afforded an orderly withdrawal.”

    So most likely the world will see a rerun of the 1973 Paris Peace Accords, where the main difference is that the “Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam” is replaced by the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”. The analysts at LWJ have complained more than enough about how dire the situation is, so they should now focus on the future and think of solutions of how the United States can save as much face as possible during their upcoming exit negotiations with the Taliban.

    The Taliban have publicly and repeatedly promised not to allow its territory to be used to attack other countries, just like how the Iranian mullahs and presidents have promised not to develop nuclear weapons. Based on the Iranian leaders’ promises, the Obama administration along with other countries engaged in the 2015 JCPOA deal with Iran that is based on rigorous international inspection and verification, to make sure that the Islamic Republic is not breaking its promises. Everyone other than a few right-wing hawks like Trump and Netanyahu agree that the 2015 JCPOA deal was successfully working to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

    Similarly, the US along with other countries could engage in a similar deal with the Afghan Taliban regime based on thorough international inspection and verification, to make sure that the Islamic Emirate is not going to break its promises and is not hosting international dangerous threats like Al Qaeda terrorist camps. In exchange for complying faithfully to this deal, the Taliban-ruled Afghan state can have sanctions relief, international recognition and bilateral diplomatic relations established with other countries. If the Islamic Emirate breaks their promises or any terms of the deal, they can be threatened with sanctions, airstrikes and destruction of their state again. Even many western journalists are now admitting that the Taliban rule is far less corrupt and more efficient than the secular/liberal regime of warlords in Kabul.

    All the Taliban social restrictions on personal appearance and women’s rights, and their heavy-handed totalitarianism and hyper-patriarchy, is undesirably ugly but it is a necessary price to pay in order to have law and order, peace and stability and less corruption in Afghanistan. America learnt to accept that in Vietnam. Trump also started détente with North Korea and negotiating sanctions relief in exchange for Kim Jong fulfilling his promises of nuclear disarmament, and there is no reason to suggest why something similar can’t be done with the Taliban Mullahs to pressure them to act on their word to not allow international terrorist attacks from Afghan soil, with international inspectors ensuring Taliban state compliance with the deal.

    Of course the Taliban will not denounce AQ as an organization or its ideology just like how the Viet Cong would never renounce or disown the Soviet Union or communist ideology, so this is an unrealistic and embarrassing demand for the Taliban which would cause them to lose face. However it is perfectly realistic that the Taliban can freeze AQ militant activities and keep them in check inside Afghan territory, without fully disowning AQ altogether, which lets the Taliban save face too by not fully “selling out” or betraying their allies.

    If America and the whole western world could ally with Saudi Arabia while it imposed the most draconian (Taliban-style) social restrictions on personal freedoms and women’s rights for decades (nay, for almost a century!), with the excuse that the Saudis are cooperating to prevent international terror attacks in the west, then why can’t the west do something similar and at least tolerate or put up with the Taliban’s ultra-orthodox rule inside Afghanistan as long as they are not bothering other countries?

    Saudi Arabia softened up their social restrictions gradually over the years, and since the crown prince MBS came last year through internal revolution (not installed in power by a foreign invasion), he accelerated the liberalization of the Saudi society. Similarly the Islamic Emirate will also soften up slowly over the years as their politicians, businessmen, students and citizens regularly travel abroad (without sanctions in the way) and get influenced by the more liberal outside world. And then one day the Taliban state will probably also get their own MBS-style great reformer too.

    Socially changing the Afghan society for the better should be done from the inside by home-grown indigenous forces, and not forcefully imposed by foreign invaders or imported incompetent stooges like Ghani who have US citizenship so are seen by locals as an extension of the foreign invaders. So LWJ should focus on the future, and think of how to make an Iran-2015-style deal with the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan verified and enforced by international inspectors, as that is the best mutually beneficial outcome that America can now hope for, it is in the best interests of everyone.

    If such an Iran-style peace deal to save face for both sides is not made, and the war drags on indefinitely then that is much worse because billions of dollars more worth of US taxpayer money will carry on being hopelessly wasted down the drain in vain for nothing, more destruction of the country’s infrastructure will carry on, more troops lives will be wasted for nothing, more civilians will carry on being massacred, more refugees will flood Europe to annoy the western people, and the international terror threat will continue.

    • Baz says:

      I wonder if the Long war Journalists have come to the same conclusion that I and many others have: That it is 100% guaranteed that Taliban will definitely come back to full power not too long from now, even though we hate to see that, and it is only a question of when (not if). Likely scenario: The reincarnation of the 1975 fall of Saigon will see the US desperately scrambling helicopters in Kabul to evacuate the few westerners there and thousands of Afghans who supported their secular/liberal/warlord/democracy regime, from the rooftop of the US embassy, from where they will all be flown to some makeshift temporary base in a neighbouring country, and then from there granted US asylum visas. Then the Taliban steamrolls into Kabul the next day and renames it as “Mullah Omar City” or “Omarabad”, in honour of the late “founding father” of their nation-state, just like the Viet Cong did with renaming Saigon to Ho Chi Minh City. Then two decades later America and other countries normalises full diplomatic, political and economic/trading relations with the ultra-orthodox Afghanistan government that they used to fight, exactly like what happened with Vietnam, which itself is still ruled by an authoritarian politically communist regime who are the descendants of the original VietCong, even as the US has warm relations with it today.

      The fact is that the United States has a lifelong history of making rapprochements, détentes and peace with its worst enemies, starting with its own “occupying foreign invaders” (Britain), and more recently with the Soviet Union, Mao’s China, Viet Cong’s Vietnam, Gaddafi’s Libya, Ayatollah’s Iran, and Kim Jong’s North Korea. Maybe the Taliban’s Afghanistan is the next one? America can always use the Taliban’s publicly declared commitment to not allow international terrorism from Afghanistan, to hold Taliban accountable to keep their big promise. The west gave a fair chance to Iran to prove their publicly declared promise of not developing nukes, in exchange for sanctions relief and not pursuing regime change. America is trying to give a fair chance to Kim Jong to prove his publicly declared promise that he will disarm his nukes in exchange for keeping his throne, sanctions relief and economic aid to develop his country China-style, while maintaining his autocratic but stable regime intact. So maybe the next logical step is to give Taliban a fair chance to prove their publicly declared promise of not allowing international terrorism from Afghanistan, in exchange for letting them keep their autocratic but stable rule, and aid to develop their country like China? If the Iran-2015-style grand deal I detailed above doesn’t work out and Taliban breaks their end of the bargain, remember that there is always the option to invade them all over again, back to the 2010 situation, and then this time (next time) set up permanent military bases there like in Germany and Japan, and install a loyal strongman in power similar to Russia’s strongmen Assad or Kadyrov, to avoid the squabbling, infighting and dysfunctional mess that comes with trying to impose democracy in a war-torn country.

    • David Stepek says:

      Why do we waste our time and money trying to civilize the uncivilizable. We know who the bad guys are and we know where they live. We also know what the basis of their economy is. We should simply rain hell down on them and their homes and their opium fields from bombers, cruise missiles, and as much heavy artillery as we can mass. It worked in Germany and Japan. It can work here. In fact two of our staunchest allies are nation’s that we defeated. Argue that logic.

    • Steve says:

      Good luck with getting international inspectors to even find, let alone monitor, AQ training camps in Kunar Province.

    • Vik R says:

      Didn’t Taliban under the influence of Saudi salafi religious teachings and funding change the Afghan society among a few other countries in ME from a relatively liberal to extremely conservative society in a short time though use of force? Force works and will always work. Force while backed up with high morals is even more potent.

  • Jack Gross says:

    Great article. Sums up all the major points of the conflict.

    I think we do the world, and specifically the U.S. a disservice when we call this a “lost war”. Most of the people reading this know the outcome once we leave Afghanistan to the Taliban. Sectarian genocide, and worldwide terrorism operations will resume. Did we fail to find partners in Afghanistan to willingly and effectively stand up to the Taliban? Or did Afghanistan itself fail in that endeavor?

  • Murad Badshah says:

    A good article with some meticulous research and some “unfulfilled wishes” of the loosing side of Afghan war. I agree with Baz:
    “America is probably now at the same stage in the Afghan war as it was in Vietnam in about 1972. So now that the war is definitely lost forever, there is no hope now for the US.
    “While it is a long shot, it may be the case that the Taliban is willing to agree to a Vietnam-style deal in which the United States is afforded an orderly withdrawal.””
    U.S. is now looking for some face saving to get out of the quagmire called Afghanistan. What an irony of fate.
    I remember the days when the mightiest military power of the world invaded the poorest nation of the world, toppled the poor Taliban and announced victory in God-like manner.
    And now that US is virtually begging for negotiation to Taliban.
    US now doesn’t know what to do. If it remains in Afghanistan it will succumb to death and in the last Taliban will be victorious. If it gets out of Afghanistan, that is a shame because the “uncultured”, “uncivilized” Taliban kicked you out of Afghanistan, and Taliban will be victorious. What a pity!

    • Jack says:

      While the U.S. troops were in Afghanistan, the Taliban was hiding among the populace and could only sneak in to kill unprotected civilians and Afghan forces. There was never a Taliban victory over the Coalition military. Only mere ied attacks. They never overan a single base.

      It seems like the same people who like to talk trash about the U.S. are happy to see the Taliban come back to power and kill inocent civilians again.

    • Jack says:

      Looks like my previous reply was not published.

      It seems people who want to bash the U.S. effort in Afghanistan are more willing to see the Taliban come to power and resume killing civilians than to give credit to where it is due.

      The Taliban have not overan one single Coalition base, they are not a formidable fighting force against a professional military. They hide in the population and sneak attack convoys, along with commit atrocities against the populace. Seems like some of the commenters here are fans.

  • Mars1234 says:

    This is truly an in-depth article. This is why I love coming to the Long War Journal. There is only truth and truth means knowledge, and knowledge means freedom. Thank you guys.

  • Philip Sahli says:

    As I recall in 1972, North Viet Nam was driven to the negotiating table by Nixon releasing the dogs of war and pounding them into submission. It was a spineless Marxicrat congress that removed all trip wires and lost the Vietnamese peace. Arc light flights would have decimated the north’s armored divisions. So much for a popular uprising. I think it is time to take it to the Pakistanis.

  • setnaffa says:

    There can be no peace between Islam and kaffirs. It’s in the Quran and the Hadiths.

    We just need to stop kidding ourselves. They will kill us if they get the chance. And we keep giving them chances

    We can either kill enough that they recognize Islam is only a good way to die, or surrender. Negotiations, in the Islamic mind, are only pursued by the losing side.

    Yes, they want “peace”; but their definition is us dead and a worldwide caliphate.

    I wish I was wrong

  • Vik R says:

    There are other options than giving up. Maintain the status quo for next 100 years.
    Reduce the foreign forces footprint and maintain extremely limited special ops teams at secure locations. General population should not feel they are under foreign occupation.
    Whenever Taliban show up in sparsely populated locations, doing victory parades just carpet bomb them out of existence. If they show up in populated areas carry out surgical operations to reduce collateral damage and withdraw to secure locations. Drones have been very effective and that is why the extremist political parties have been busy organizing demonstrations against them. Use them liberally and disrupt the logistics.
    Don’t give up because this place will become an epicenter of extremism again and the history repeats all over again.
    This region understands and respects only power and the day you rule out that option, you are a paper tiger.

  • Frank Dunn says:

    Depressing article with, except for Bill Roggio’s comment, equally depressing comments. Losing Afghanistan will be little different than “losing” South Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and other countries that we tried to protect but eventually withdrew from after too much American blood and treasure were lost. If we remove our 20,000 troops from Afghanistan, the country will return to being what it apparently wants to be, a violent Islamic state governed by war lords. We cannot impose a middle class, we cannot assure fair elections and from the corruption that is being revealed about the FBI, CIA, DoJ, IRS and the Obama White House, we cannot establish an honest government staffed by officials committed to the rule of law.

    Afghanistan can join the other shot hole countries in the world. We cannot stop this move, and it’s not worth the lives of brave American soldiers to keep the inevitable from happening. If there are gatherings of ISIS leaders in that country, drone them and keep droning them. Which is essentially all that we can do.

  • Johno Bristo says:

    well, let´s look on the bright side. maybe when it´s all over the market will be flooded with slightly-dented white hiluxes. you know, the late 80´s early 90´s models before Toyota went in for manufactured obsolescence. the only problem will be figuring out how to get them from Peshawar back to the good ol´USofA.

  • Sid Finster says:

    If Trump were going to pull out of Afghanistan, the time to do so was right after taking office. Trump could blame his predecessors and wash his hands of that country.

    However, Trump is weak and easily manipulated. Instead of doing what had to be done, he foolishly listened to his generals and advisers.

    Afghanistan is his baby now.

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