Ed­i­to­ri­als: The Threats of war

De­ci­sion time ap­proaches for what to do about Afghanistan and North Korea

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY -

Amer­ica’s long­est war has cost more than 2,300 lives and 20,000 wounded, and $1.07 tril­lion. The value of the lives can­not be mea­sured. Now Pres­i­dent Trump has au­tho­rized send­ing 3,000 to 5,000 more troops to strengthen train­ing and sup­port ef­forts there, ad­ding to the 9,800 Amer­i­cans who are part of an in­ter­na­tional force of 13,000.

But the price of the war in Afghanistan has to be reck­oned as much greater than that. Bat­tle­field medicine has so im­proved that more than 90 percent of the sol­diers wounded in Afghanistan re­cover; the sur­vival rate in the Viet­nam war was 86.5 percent. But 320,000 vet­er­ans of the fight­ing in Afghanistan and Iraq suf­fer Trau­matic Brain In­jury. More than 1,600 vet­er­ans lost all or part of a limb and many thou­sands more suf­fer flash­backs, hy­per-vig­i­lance and dif­fi­culty sleep­ing. The cost for these vet­er­ans’ med­i­cal pay­ments over the next 40 years will be more than $1 tril­lion.

Now there’s a resur­gence of fight­ing against the Tal­iban and the Is­lamic State, or ISIS, in Afghanistan. The op­tions for pol­i­cy­mak­ers in Wash­ing­ton are nar­row­ing, and another threat against the Amer­i­can home­land grows from North Korea. De­ci­sion time ap­pears ever more im­mi­nent for Mr. Trump and his ad­min­is­tra­tion. The in­tel­li­gence wise men — who have been say­ing for months that the ul­ti­mate threat, an ICBM mis­sile with a nu­clear war­head, is years away — now are not so sure. The fight­ing in Afghanistan, ter­ri­ble as it is, might be­come a mere dis­trac­tion from the main show.

A com­plete with­drawal from Afghanistan would surely lead to a resur­gence of Tal­iban op­er­a­tions and the added par­tic­i­pa­tion of other rad­i­cal Is­lamic forces. The pos­si­bil­ity of the re­gion be­com­ing a base for at­tacks on the Amer­i­can home­land as well would be a real pos­si­bil­ity. Afghanistan in Tal­iban hands would threaten neigh­bor­ing Pak­istan, with 200 mil­lion Mus­lims, and in In­dia, with an Is­lamic mi­nor­ity pro­jected to reach 310 mil­lion over the next three decades.

NATO for­mally ended com­bat op­er­a­tions in Afghanistan in 2014, in ef­fect trans­fer­ring full se­cu­rity re­spon­si­bil­ity to the Afghan gov­ern­ment. Pak­istani mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions in the North Waziris­tan tribal area two years ago dis­lodged thou­sands of mainly Uzbek, Arab and Pak­istani Is­lamic mil­i­tants, who flooded into Afghanistan to swell Tal­iban ranks.

Afghan se­cu­rity forces lacked ca­pa­bil­i­ties and equip­ment, es­pe­cially air power and re­con­nais­sance, to counter the in­creas­ingly fre­quent Tal­iban ter­ror­ist at­tacks, even against the cities. The Tal­iban det­o­nated a car bomb out­side the Na­tional Assem­bly two years go. The Quadri­lat­eral Co­or­di­na­tion Group, con­sist­ing of Afghan, Amer­i­can, Chi­nese and Pak­istani of­fi­cials, in­vited the Tal­iban to dis­cuss peace talks in Jan­uary 2016, but noth­ing much has come of that.

Last year the U.S. mil­i­tary was au­tho­rized to go on the of­fen­sive against mil­i­tants af­fil­i­ated with the ISIS in Afghanistan af­ter the U.S. State Depart­ment des­ig­nated the ISIS in Afghanistan and Pak­istan as a for­eign ter­ror­ists

The ques­tion fac­ing the United States in Afghanistan, and it’s a true dilemma, is whether it should strengthen its forces, mod­ify the terms of en­gage­ment to add more air at­tacks to break the var­i­ous Tal­iban groups. That might not be enough to suf­fi­ciently strengthen the feud­ing, cor­rupt Kabul regime and its own mil­i­tary. The al­ter­na­tive ap­pears to be a to­tal with­drawal, rather than the piece­meal ap­proach il­lus­trated by the new in­crease in Amer­i­can forces. And that sug­gests the mis­sion-creep strat­egy that led to the war in Viet­nam.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.