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Afghanistan: A Failure to Tell the Truth

September 13, 2019 in Economics

By John Glaser, John Mueller

John Glaser and John Mueller

Speaking to the press in the Oval Office in July, President Trump acknowledged the need to “extricate ourselves” from Afghanistan. “We have been there for 19 years,” he complained. “It’s ridiculous.” This was not the first time Trump had talked about the war this way. He clearly does not believe in the mission. Negotiations with the Taliban—led by Zalmay Khalilzad, the administration’s Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation—showed considerable progress, until President Trump ostentatiously canceled a prospective meeting at Camp David to formalize the framework deal that had been reached “in principle.”

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Though talks will likely continue, despite Trump’s insistence that they are “dead,” major obstacles remain. It still is not clear how the Kabul government, in which the United States has so heavily invested for almost two decades, can survive in the face of a resurgent Taliban without the U.S. military there to protect it. And many in the Trump administration who favor an indefinite residual U.S. counter-terrorism force in Afghanistan would prefer no deal rather than one calling for complete withdrawal.

Nevertheless, the reality is that the United States cannot win the war in Afghanistan on the terms stipulated by the three presidents who have waged it, at least not at an acceptable cost. As Lisa Curtis, deputy assistant to the president and senior director for South and Central Asia at the National Security Council, puts it, “no one believes that there is a military solution to this conflict.” The Taliban now holds more territory than at any point since 2001, and the regime in Kabul ranks as one of the worst in the world on corruption and human rights. After 18 years of trying to quell the Taliban insurgency and to build an independent and competent Afghan government, army, and police force, a recent Inspector General report concludes that security forces are still “not able to protect the population from insurgents in large parts of the country.”

The Need for an Honest Assessment

One of the reasons the war has persisted, despite the many signs of mission failure, is because of the culture in the Department of Defense and how it interacts with U.S. politics at the national level. In their public portrayal of the war, U.S. military leaders have persistently depicted a rosier picture than the …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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