6,000 days in Afghanistan: The point was what, exactly?
Pearl Harbor to V-J Day (1,346 days).
America went to war in Afghanistan because that not-really-governed nation was the safe haven from which al-Qaeda planned the 9/11 attacks. It was not mission creep but mission gallop that turned the intervention into a war against the Taliban who had provided, or at least not prevented, the safe haven.
So, the United States was on a mission opposed by a supposed ally next door — Pakistan, which through Directorate S of its intelligence service has supported the Taliban.
This fascinating, if dispiriting, story is told in Steve Coll’s new book “Directorate S: The CIA and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” There cannot be many secrets about this subject that are not in Coll’s almost 700 pages.
He reports when Gen. Stanley McChrystal went to Afghanistan in May 2002, “A senior Army officer in Washington told him, ‘Don’t build [Bondsteels],’ referring to the NATO base in [Kosovo] that Rumsfeld saw as a symbol of peacekeeping mission creep. The officer warned McChrystal against ‘anything here that looks permanent . ... We are not staying long.’ As McChrystal took the lay of the land, ‘I felt like we were high-school students who had wandered into a Mafia-owned bar.’ ” It has been a learning experience. After blowing up tunnels, some almost as long as a football field, that were thought to be created by and for terrorists, U.S. officials learned that they were an ancient irrigation system.
For 73 years, U.S. troops have been on the Rhine, where their presence helped win the Cold War and now serves vital U.S. interests as Vladimir Putin ignites Cold War 2.0. Significant numbers of U.S. troops have been in South Korea for 68 years, and few people are foolish enough to doubt the usefulness of this deployment, or to think that it will or should end soon. It is conceivable, and conceivably desirable, that U.S. forces will be in Afghanistan for another 1,000, perhaps 6,000, days.
It would, however, be helpful to have an explanation of U.S. interests and objectives beyond vice presidential boilerplate about how “We will see it through to the end.” And (to U.S. troops) how “the road before you is promising.” And how the president has “unleashed the full range of American military might.” And how “reality and facts and a relentless pursuit of victory will guide us.”
If the U.S. objective is freedom there rather than security here, or if the theory is that the latter somehow depends on the former, the administration should clearly say so, and defend those propositions, or liquidate this undertaking that has, so far, cost about $1 trillion and 2,200 American lives.