6,000 days in Afghanistan: The point was what, ex­actly?

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - BALANCED VIEWS - Ge­orge F. Will

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.

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