Our troops are dy­ing for a lost cause

Texarkana Gazette - - OPINION - Markos Kounalakis

Twenty-seven years ago, I was in Afghanistan to watch the Rus­sians cut and run from a mil­i­tary quag­mire and failed oc­cu­pa­tion that helped bring down the Soviet Union. In 2018, Amer­ica is ready to walk away from a sim­i­larly failed mil­i­tary ad­ven­ture. As Lt. Col. John W. Nicholson Jr., the ex­it­ing Amer­i­can and NATO forces’ com­man­der in Afghanistan put it: “It is time for this war in Afghanistan to end.”

He’s right.

Our long­est war drags on, and Pres­i­dent Trump’s in­stincts and in­cli­na­tions tell him to learn from the Soviet Union’s mis­take a gen­er­a­tion ear­lier: Get out of Afghanistan. ASAP. With Chief of Staff John Kelly’s pol­icy role di­min­ished and a re­freshed na­tional se­cu­rity team, the White House has qui­eted sup­port for a con­tin­ued large U.S. mil­i­tary pres­ence in Afghanistan.

Echo­ing in­stead in the pres­i­dent’s ears are the dis­tant voices of Steve Bannon and Erik Prince, who would re­place Amer­i­can armed forces with other coun­tries’ NATO troops and, po­ten­tially, pri­vate armies. The United King­dom is al­ready ex­pected to dou­ble its troop size and, de­spite Pak­istan’s cer­tain ob­jec­tions, Trump would also ap­pre­ci­ate an Indian mil­i­tary pres­ence. Amer­ica could use the break and needs the help.

Re­cently, Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo went to visit Pak­istan’s new Prime Min­is­ter Im­ran Khan to tell him—diplo­mat­i­cally, of course—that he needs to bring his do­mes­tic Tal­iban-friendly ISI in­tel­li­gence ser­vice to heel and to cut off all aid and es­cape routes for Afghan in­sur­gents and Tal­iban fight­ers. Pom­peo as­suredly made the case to Khan that Amer­ica is the prime min­is­ter’s best bet for po­lit­i­cal sur­vival and suc­cess. Or that Amer­ica could po­ten­tially be his worst night­mare.

NATO and the U.S. De­fense De­part­ment con­tin­u­ally af­firm their com­mit­ment to the Afghan mis­sion, known as “Res­o­lute Sup­port”. In re­al­ity, how­ever, Amer­ica’s mil­i­tary is go­ing to be stick­ing it out just long enough to call it a win, hand it over and get out.

Western pres­sure on Afghan Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani to con­clude a peace ac­cord with the Tal­iban is in­creas­ing, and a re­cent short-lived Tal­iban cease­fire was enough to give the White House an ar­gu­ment for the Afghan lead­er­ship to close a deal. An Afghan-signed peace means the United States gets to wash its hands of the quag­mire so that, as Pom­peo re­cently re­minded the world, what comes next is “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned.”

Amer­ica is fast ap­proach­ing year 17 of this seem­ingly end­less war, and it’s only get­ting dirtier and more ex­pen­sive. This is the fifth pres­i­den­tial term that a com­man­der-in-chief has not only failed to end the war, but in­stead has added more troops, dropped more bombs and made sure to keep the car­nage and nas­ti­ness out of pub­lic sight. The only peo­ple who seem­ingly are aware of the NATO-in­her­ited and man­aged war are soldiers, their fam­i­lies and Afghans.

In its early days, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion was ei­ther as un­will­ing or un­able, as were pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tions, to end the Afghan war. But things have changed.

A suc­cess­ful with­drawal from Afghanistan now would be pos­i­tive news for the pres­i­dent, of course, but also be wel­comed both by Amer­ica’s mil­i­tary and cit­i­zens. Peace usu­ally is. The af­fected coun­try, how­ever, will con­tinue to suf­fer long af­ter our troops are gone— es­pe­cially as a mu­tat­ing ISIS has found a new Afghan home.

I was a re­porter in Afghanistan when there was no ISIS or Tal­iban— just an Amer­i­can-aligned and sup­ported anti-Soviet Mu­ja­hedeen that even­tu­ally turned its strat­egy and guns against Kabul and the West. Back then, some Afghan war­lords, par­tic­u­larly the ra­bid Jalalalud­din Haqqani, who died re­cently at age 71, did not want to share power with oth­ers. In­stead he al­lied with an up-and-com­ing Tal­iban ter­ror group to take over the coun­try.

In 1991, my re­port­ing team met with the griz­zled, opium-run­ning Haqqani whose Amer­i­can-sup­ported, val­ium-suck­ing and gun-crazed anti-Soviet Mu­ja­hedeen fight­ers made clear that when Moscow was tamed and ex­pelled, they were next com­ing af­ter the United States. Haqqani’s fight­ers reck­lessly shot around the com­pound, and Haqqani him­self spit out his dark con­tempt with phys­i­cal threats against my col­leagues. Un­sur­pris­ingly, it was Haqqani and the Tal­iban gov­ern­ment in Afghanistan that even­tu­ally pro­vided Osama bin Laden’s al Qaida a haven and a base for launch­ing the at­tacks on Amer­ica on Sept. 11, 2001.

In the 20th cen­tury, Amer­ica helped oust the Sovi­ets from Afghanistan. It helped win that war and end the oc­cu­pa­tion, but then lost both its in­ter­est and the peace in Afghanistan. U.S. arms and train­ing were partly re­spon­si­ble for cre­at­ing the con­di­tions that brought the Tal­iban’s rise and, now, for ISIS to find fer­tile ground. As the United States fur­ther pushes Afghanistan to sue for peace and for oth­ers to take its place, we must re­mem­ber that the Amer­i­can sac­ri­fices made in that war can­not be com­pletely ig­nored or for­got­ten as we move on to the next tweet­storm or in­ter­na­tional cri­sis.

Out of sight must never be en­tirely out of mind. Gold Star fam­i­lies and mil­i­tary per­son­nel must know that soldiers, like non­stop-de­ployed U.S. Army Com­mand Sergeant Ma­jor Ti­mothy A. Bol­yard, the lat­est Amer­i­can ca­su­alty in Afghanistan, are both hon­ored and not for­got­ten. For this to be true, Amer­ica’s res­o­lute sup­port must be for our troops and not a lost cause. It’s time for Amer­i­cans to turn out the lights in Afghanistan.

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