Updated: Dec 31, 2019
That sounds crazy right? Expend national blood and treasure and not know why we are doing it? Sounds like a good idea for a movie. Unfortunately, for the third time in my lifetime, that is exactly what we have done. I had some time on my hands recently and read all 40 volumes of the Pentagon Papers, the history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Now we have the "Afghanistan Papers", which details the last 18 years of U.S. involvement in that country. Feel free to read them also…or not...if you are in the mood for some gothic horror. It is not really all that confusing once you break it down. We have basically spent 18 years floundering in a country as a result of the misguided decisions by three presidents.
Mistake Number 1: We invaded Iraq in 2003. The reason we sent forces to Afghanistan in late 2001 was to capture and kill Al Quaeda (AQ) terrorists who were a threat to the U.S. They were using the ungoverned space in Afghanistan to plan and execute their missions. By 2004 that counter-terrorism mission (CT) had been largely accomplished. Yes, bin Laden was still out there, and other AQ leaders as well, but for the most part the organization was decimated. So while we were wrapping up the CT mission, for entirely different reasons, the U.S. invaded Iraq and effectively turned Afghanistan in to a sideshow.
Mistake Number 2: We turned the Taliban in to our enemies. The Taliban are an extremist Islamic group that ruled Afghanistan from 1986-2001. They are an intolerant and radical group and their treatment of women is despicable. However, they were our friends during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980's. They are entrenched in Afghanistan and not going anywhere. Once we invaded Afghanistan, it was inevitable that U.S. forces would cross paths with them. Shooting started. At this point options included sitting down with the Taliban and negotiating some sort of arrangement. This would have been the pragmatic approach to the problem. Instead, we turned the Taliban in to our enemy. Again, the Taliban are bad actors, but there are a lot of bad actors on the planet, and we don't pick fights with all of them. So now we are fighting the Taliban.
Mistake Number 3: Counter-Insurgency (CI) campaign against the Taliban. So, we have now defeated AQ in Afghanistan, and the Obama administration decides to start a CI campaign against the Taliban. Oh, and there are also others that believe Afghanistan should be a democracy, like us, and miscreants like the Taliban have no place, and we have troops there anyways…so..let's send more!
Mistake Number 4: Trump. So now we have a new president who says Afghanistan is a waste of precious resources and we need to get out (on that I agree). However, he does not do it. We have designated the Taliban terrorists..because that is what we do now..we can't call them anything worse I suppose. Negotiations with the Taliban are at a stalemate because they have the upper hand. We should have started talks with them ten years ago.
I am not even going to get in to the number of troops that have been killed and wounded, the trillions of dollars spent, the amount of ridiculous hyperbole from civilian leaders, Generals, Admirals and others on how much success we have had (despite data proving otherwise). We have heard this story before. Meanwhile, the soldiers, sailors and airmen pay the price of for these misguided decisions and ridiculous assessments on progress. I guess most Americans don't care really anymore...sort of like the Roman citizens during the empire.