On my first reporting trip to Afghanistan, I was surprised to find that so many people supported the US invasion. They loved President George Bush because he got rid of the hated Taliban regime. But when I asked what should the US do now, most answered “go home.” That was in January 2002, just three months after the US invasion.
Almost 16 years later, the US remains in Afghanistan and President Donald Trump just announced plans to send yet more troops to what I consider a losing occupation. The war has resulted in tens of thousands of civilian deaths, killed more than 2,400 US soldiers, and will cost an estimated $2 trillion, including veterans’ benefits.
Trump plans to send 4,000 more troops to bolster the corrupt regime installed by the US in the first place. Matthew Hoh, a former State Department official in Afghanistan, told me Trump used fear mongering about terrorist attacks to justify the escalation.
“How is keeping tens of thousands of US troops in Afghanistan going to stop someone from driving a van at people in Barcelona?” he asked.
The anti-war movement in the US sharply criticized the escalation and called for withdrawal of US and all foreign troops.
Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the women led peace group Code Pink, told me she thinks that Trump plans a permanent occupation of Afghanistan.
“Sending more soldiers in an unwinnable war is just not right,” she told me. “Pouring more resources into the black hole of Afghan corruption is not right.”
But what would happen if all foreign troops actually pulled out?
That question troubled Santwana Dasgupta, who led a NGO helping women in Afghanistan.
“These groups like Code Pink call for immediate withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan,” she said. “But what about the US responsibility for developing Afghanistan?”
She argued that immediate withdrawal of troops would lead to a collapse of the Afghan government and triumph of the Taliban, setting back whatever progress had been made by Afghan women. Instead, she said, the peace movement should demand a genuine development strategy, a focus on improving the lives of civilians, and maintaining enough US troops to train the Afghan military and police.
That conversation took place in 2009. I disagreed with her views at the time because the US was never interested in Afghan women. It funded development programs only insofar as they helped bolster support for the military occupation. As for training the Afghan Army to win the war, in 2010 the Obama administration stationed 100,000 troops to Afghanistan but was unable to defeat the Taliban.
Even with the addition of Trump’s 4,000 troops, the US will have about 12,500 soldiers in country. Exactly what will they accomplish where 100,000 failed?
Code Pink’s Benjamin agreed the US has an obligation to help rebuild Afghanistan.
“The US government should commit money for reparations and development,” she said. “The US should spend money on the real needs of Afghan people and not blowing them up.”
“As a feminist I hate to say it,” she continued, “but we have to negotiate with Taliban. That’s the only way the war will end.
They are Afghans and we are not. It’s critical to have a political settlement now that there’s ISIS in Afghanistan.”
The Bush administration waged war on Afghanistan under false pretenses, and the lying continued through Republican and Democratic administrations.
The US officially invaded Afghanistan in retaliation for the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. The Taliban had allowed Al Qaeda to operate in its territory, but the Afghan government was unaware of the 9/11 plans.
“No Afghans were involved in 9/11,” noted former State Department official Hoh. “The attacks were planed outside of Afghanistan. And the Taliban had no connections to the post 9/11 attacks such as those in London and Madrid.”
The US had long wanted to build a natural gas pipeline through Afghanistan. In 2010 the Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed a deal to participate in a $7.6 billion, 1000-mile pipeline that would go from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan and into Pakistan, bypassing Iran, the US enemy du jour in the region.
The pipeline never got built, however, due to war and instability.
The main US interest in Afghanistan remains geopolitical. The US helped create the Mujahedeen insurgency against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Today Afghanistan remains an important crossroads affecting Pakistan, India, Russia and China.
And that helps explain why Trump shifted from his neo-isolationist positions calling for an end to the war to his latest, neo-conservative interventionist policies.
The tip off came when Trump appointed three pro-interventionist generals to top defense and security positions within his administration.
Secretary of Defense James Maddis and Chief of Staff John Kelly are former Marine Corps generals. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster was, until a few months ago, a Lt. General in the US Army.
Their political views stand in stark opposition to Trump’s supposed opposition to interventionist wars.
“They understand America to be an empire,” Hoh said. “It’s a matter of guarding the empire. They see themselves as legionnaires.”
“The way to maintain the empire is to control the borderlands,” he continued. “They just use brutal force to keep the borderlands under control.”
Ancient Rome’s rulers secured their base at home by controlling the outer reaches of the Empire in what is modern day Germany and Britain. Until they didn’t.
Every empire eventually collapses, although I doubt Rome’s leaders saw it coming until the very end. Trump doesn’t see it coming either.
The lack of political support and the outrageous costs mitigate against permanent militarily occupation of countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, or Syria.
But small scale troop escalations can’t win the war either.
“It means continual war,” said Hoh, “and it won’t be successful.”
Oakland-based journalist Reese Erlich has been a foreign correspondent for more than 40 years. Follow him on Twitter @ReeseErlich, on Facebook Reese Erlich Foreign Correspondent and visit his home page The Official Website of Reese Erlich
Im not sure what the Deep state wants or even if there is a "Deep State" Another unpleasant fact is that Afghanistan is the largest opium producer in the world and global opium production and exportation has exploded since the US invasion in 2003. A lot of it is refined in China and ends up on the streets in the United states.
The US invaded Afghanistan and Iraq after the 9/11 attack primarily to show the rest of the world that we know how to throw a punch. Now the US may be stuck with Afghanistan for the foreseeable future. Obama had the opportunity to withdraw completely from the country , why didn't he?
Thank you. First mention I've heard of the 'triumvirate' (Kelly, Mdadis, McMaster) as being anything other than a coincidence. A 'military takeover' fits pretty well into what I imagine the Deep State playbook wants. (Personally, I feel this really happened 16 yrs ago, with Bush V Gore, but …)
The new Silk Road promises to be a major econ engine for China and her desires in the Middle East and Africa. Keeping a presence on top of that seems to be the rationale. Russia, and her minions, can't be trusted.
Trump the show dog, will keep both the left and right (dis)engaged in his buffoonery, while The Agenda unfolds.
When the former head of the CIA comes out on TV and says that Trump is dangerous and scary people listen. When dozens of business leaders and the entire military community publicly rebukes his statements people pay attention. The Congress and senate are probably trying to figure out ways to get rid of him as quickly as possible with minimal damage to their party
We presently have the equivalent of a peaceful and short term military coupe in the United States. Mr Trump is incompetent and unstable and everyone knows this. The Congressional leaders know it, foreign leaders know this and his own family even knows it which is why you see Jared and Ivanka as the consigliere tag team. What happens under these circumstances in smaller less developed countries is usually some military general seizes control and throws out the dictator.
Generals McMaster, Maddis and Kelly are to a large extent planning and implementing most of the day to day operations of the White House, military and communications with foreign leaders, and honestly Im glad they are there. Someone has to do it. When Ronald Reagan developed Alzheimers Nancy Reagan was running the White House. Can Melania do the same thing? Probably not. The United States needs to continue the basic Pax-Americana which has referred to the relative peace and stability of most of the Western Hemisphere and parts of Asia which has been in existence since World War two ended. If Trump is taking orders from the Generals who at least understand the situation we might be able to avoid World War three.
There are American troops stationed all over the world on a semi permanent basis to ensure the basic Pax Americana treaties we have. There are American troops at the military base in Germany, even though most of the time they may just hang out and drink German beer with the locals. There is a major American military presence in South Korea, which everyone in the region is depending on. Will American troops be stationed permanently in Afghanistan? If they haven't left after 16 years you could make a case that it has already happened.
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