No one ever wins in Afghanistan
Arguably the most troubled country in world history is the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Recently, the President of the United States Donald Trump delivered a clear statement of an aspired foreign policy concerning this Southern and Central Asian nation. The problem the president and his staff will face is the undeniable fact that every intercession or invasion of Afghanistan has ended in misery for the interceding power involved.
From the Mongols, to the Muslim Arab Marauders, to the British, to the Soviets, to our United States, any country that became involved with this aberration of a pathetic country has suffered. After 16 years of U.S. involvement, President Trump is hoping that a change in our current strategy will have positive effects. As a result, the president spoke effectively to the plight of the American military’s present situation there. He voiced the perspective of a reinvigorated purpose. And he gave a counter-argument to the sense of fruitlessness that many feel about our intercession.
The history of this landlocked desolate country is a series of cycles of civil wars and foreign possession. They involve being conquered and struggling for a sense of national identity, followed by yet another power obtaining governance over the Afghan people through war and then trying unsuccessfully to acculturate the indigenous.
Following 9/11, the United States wanted payback on the country that permitted our terrorist enemies to train to attack us. So, we answered their assault on us with a military broadside on the Taliban in Afghanistan. Once we committed ourselves in costly blood and treasure, like many of the invaders before us, we found it difficult to extricate our forces. Seemingly, similar to every other interventionist nation before us, securing the peace and establishing a stable country in our wake is simply impossible in this confounding land.
Nevertheless, President Trump is hopeful. Consequently, he has mapped out a strategy, which will escalate our military presence there by 50 percent initially and may be incrementally more in the future. Whether this is a fool’s errand or positive crossroad, time and fate will dictate. However, the odds of any great power actually winning in Afghanistan are quite long indeed.
In the 13th Century, Genghis Khan took over the country from the ruling Ghurids and the remnants of the Ghaznavid Dynasty by leveling the key trading cities of the day. The Mongol conqueror did not seem to realize that without those cities of commerce, Herat, Balkh, and Bamyan, people would starve and rebel. Nor, did old Genghis take into account that without the primitive yet functional infrastructure in those ancient cities, that he had just destroyed, rampant disease would spread. As a result of their desperation, the lower classes resisted the Mongol leaders. Most were slaughtered because they were ungovernable. Even ancient Afghanis would not be ruled. In time, Khan reasoned that Afghanistan just was not worth his trouble in his Asian conquering scheme. Genghis did not win in Afghanistan.
Various Islamic Arab forces from what is now modern Pakistan and elements from India, along with Russian Muslims in turn dissected and partitioned Afghanistan in a loose amalgamation of governing bodies for hundreds of years. Afghanis responded with sabotage, tax evasion, and non-compliance. Crude but organized village-based terrorist groups kept this crop of invaders from stabilizing their tentatively held regions. None of these invaders realized their objectives with any permanence. Pakistanis, Russians, and outside Arabs could not win in Afghanistan.
Between the 1830s and 1919, the British Empire tried to impose their will on the Afghan people. Consequently, there were three Anglo-Afghan Wars that fractured the country once again. Even though the British and Indian forces outgunned the native forces, the Afghans were durable and determined fighters and caused many casualties on the British forces. They were resistant to British governance and relied upon guerilla warfare, especially attacking the British Colonial Justice Houses (Courtrooms). Britain’s eighty years of possession of Afghanistan was more costly than was imaginable. The British tried to subjugate the Afghani people, and tried to acculturate them as second tier English citizens as they did with the Indians. The Afghanis would have none of it. Also over time, Afghanistan’s resistance had the unintended consequence of supposedly inspiring the Indians to seek independence next door in India. The British could not win in Afghanistan.
From 1979 to 1989, the Soviet Union tried their luck at controlling Afghanistan. As a result of the “Saur Revolution” which established a Marxist State called the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), the Soviets claimed the new Afghan Communist Government beckoned them to intercede in their nation. Of course, the PDPA was backed by the Russians before they seized power in a coup. This began a decade long war between the Soviets and the native freedom fighters known as the “Mujahideen.” Holding their own against a Communist puppet government and the might of the Soviet Army, the Mujahideen fought mercilessly using guerrilla warfare as the Afghanis had always done. Aided by the Central Intelligence Agency with “Operation Cyclone” that supplied the freedom fighters with “redeye” surface-to-air missiles, the native fighters eventually outlasted the Soviets. Incredibly, on horseback, with mostly World War II Era weapons, and a little help from the US, the Afghanis stymied what was then the largest army on earth. The Soviets could not win in Afghanistan.
Following the Soviets retreat, there were years of instability and civil war. In 1996 the Taliban (religious zealots who believe in Sharia Law) formed a somewhat working government in the southern 2/3 portion of the country. The citizens living in that area of Afghanistan were treated to Draconian measures of instant brutal “justice” without any due process of law. Local religious leaders ordered total obligation to scriptural compliance under fear of death.
Now the president in the face of a long history of improbability is offering a new strategy for prevailing. It is understandable that President Trump and his two predecessors would think this way. The 9/11 terrorists trained there. Activists who despise America and plot against us operate there and also in Pakistan and Iraq.
The overriding theory is that if we defeat them there we will prevent them from harming us stateside. Taliban and Islamic State jihadists have regained power in any region where the Afghan Army and supervisory/training United States forces were not apparent.
Addressing the complexity of the situation in his hopeful speech, the president conveyed a picture of sacrifice by our brave men and women over the past decade and a half. Trump talked about Defense Secretary Mattis and his comprehensive review of all strategic options concerning the region.
The president stated the war’s outcome must yield a type of tangible victory considering what our soldiers had endured. He criticized the fast draw down of troops during President Obama’s tenure. The US had over one hundred thousand troops in Afghanistan at one time. Furthermore, the president emphasized that the US would make decisions based upon current conditions. No concrete dates of adjustments in troop amounts would ever be publicized in the future. The president also mentioned the complicity of Pakistan (the country that provided safe harbor for Osama Bin Laden) in supporting terrorism against the US. Trump stated America would take steps to confront Pakistan’s involvement. Also, the president said the ground commanders would have great latitude to respond to attack without the chains of prior rules of engagement.
Whether these new policies when implemented will work is a nagging question. In a country where every intercessor or invader throughout Afghan history has suffered great pains as a result of their involvement, winning in Afghanistan seems a bad bet. But ISIS and the Taliban cannot succeed and strengthen in Afghanistan or we will suffer the consequences of their exportation of terror here at home. It is unimpeachable to say no foreign power has prevailed in Afghanistan. Hopefully, America will beat the odds this time.