To win in Afghanistan we will have to commit to a military increase and some form of nation-building, or we can continue to kick the can down the road as we have before.
Senior advisors to President Trump will soon present him with a plan to increase the United States’ military operations in Afghanistan. The new plan calls for the expansion of the US military’s role as a broader effort to bring the war with the Taliban to a negotiated peace.
Military officials are asking for an increase in troop numbers from 3,000 to about 8,500 to impede the progression the Taliban has made since the draw-down of US and NATO forces in 2014.
Currently, the Taliban controls a third of the Afghan population, which is the biggest area of influence under Taliban control since the 2001 invasion. While testifying in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gen. John Nicholson declared that the governments of Afghanistan and the United States are “in a stalemate” with the Taliban.
Heavy casualties among the Afghanistan Security Forces, widespread corruption throughout the country, poor leadership, and the struggling Afghan economy have pushed the current mission of advise and train and reconstruction to a breaking point. According to a 2017 SIGAR report, the reconstitution efforts have already cost $117 billion in congressional appropriation and the estimated cost of additional troops and aid will be $23 billion annually.
The problem with the plan, as it has been for of both in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, is even if the US and NATO can push back the Taliban into negotiations, what happens after? The lack of ‘next steps’ have plagued our efforts since their inception. Even with all the human lives, money, and time thrown at Afghanistan, the Taliban hasn’t been eliminated, and Afghanistan is still the same unstable country as it was in 2001.
As a candidate, President Trump even said that “the era of nation-building is over.” But that is what would be needed to truly “win” the war with the Taliban. The United States has tried for 15 years to build up the government of Afghanistan, the Afghan National Army, and the Afghan National Police, all of which have seen either mixed results or failures.
Military members around the world have seen all the hard-fought gains made by the US and NATO allies be given right back to the Taliban, and now the country is at the point of breaking again. Places like Farah and Helmand province, which was once held by both the United States Marines and British forces, have fallen back into the hands of the Taliban.
To truly “win,” the military would have to be given the latitude it needs to properly bring the fight to the Taliban. As we have seen in the last few months of President Trump’s tenure in the White House, he is more than willing to let military leaders be in control of operational decisions.
The US would also need to establish a counternarcotics strategy to combat the heroin trade that provides a bulk of the Taliban’s revenue, tougher oversight in programs and projects in the country, as well as combat the destabilizing corruption within the Afghan Security Forces and the Afghan government.
If President Trump decides to continue the war in Afghanistan, it will be the continuation of the longest war in US history. He will have to commit to a military increase and nation-building, or he can continue to kick the can down the road as others before him have.