Today we learned that six U.S. soldiers were killed by a Taliban suicide bomber in Afghanistan.
In today’s NightWatch newsletter, analyst John McCreary wrote:
Afghanistan: The deputy governor of Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan said that the Taliban seized the police headquarters in Sangin District center, with fighting continuing.
Deputy governor Mohammad Jan Rasoulyar warned that the province itself could fall because of a lack of central government support. He said at least 90 soldiers had been killed in the latest fighting.
He said, “Helmand will collapse to the enemies and it’s not like Kunduz, where we could launch an operation from the airport to retake it. That is just impossible and a dream.”
Rasoulyar used a Facebook post to appeal to President Ghani for direct intervention in the province. “Be quick and act on this! Protect Helmand from this life and death situation and distance yourself from the circle of those lawyers who tell you everything is OK and the situation is normal,” he wrote.;
Comment: The provincial authorities have been warning the central government for weeks about the danger. News services reported that Western special forces teams have been deployed to Helmand. They should be capable of preventing the loss of the district offices, but most of Helmand already is under Taliban control.
The Taliban know the Western special forces cannot stay because they will be needed elsewhere. They also know that foreign special forces can win every clash, but cannot defeat the Taliban. They know that the Afghan forces cannot stand on their own.
The Taliban remain patient. They are still following Mullah Omar’s strategy to never make peace with the government; infiltrate and destroy the government from within; and wait for the foreigners to leave.
In 2015, they achieved more success than in any prior year. They are not yet ready and able to govern, but they are getting closer.
Six years ago this month, after Barack Obama made a speech announcing an eighteen-month extension of the American force commitment in Afghanistan, I wrote:
I watched the President’s speech last night. It was not encouraging. It had something for everyone: escalation for the hawks; an exit date for the doves; the usual rot about “distorting and defiling a great religion”, to keep the Muslims off the streets; some bean-counting for the frugal; some American exceptionalism for the true believers; some mulitilateralism for the rest; a little torture-and-Gitmo-loathing for the base; and to wrap up, some right-makes-might for moral uplift.
The problem is that the situation is impossible; there simply are no good options. Never have I felt more pessimistic.
If we leave, the Taliban will overrun the country again, al-Qaeda will set up shop as before, and nuclear-armed Pakistan will totter. The world will know, with certainty this time, that America (and the West generally) is a fickle ally that has no real stomach for a fight. As night falls, those in Afghanistan who have put their trust in us will find they have backed the wrong horse, and they will pay. The brave women and girls who have risked all just to go to school, to read a book — and who have been, for their trouble, beaten and murdered and burned with acid — will be ground into dust.
If we stay, we will never “win”. Afghanistan will be our tar-baby forever. We will never install a functioning democracy there, or a government free of corruption, or a reliable military dedicated to its preservation: these things cannot be done, any more than you can teach wolves to knit, or make butter from stones. We will fight and spend and bleed and die there forever.
Recognizing that we are now of modest means, and so cannot afford to hold our tar-baby forever, we have announced that we will begin leaving in the middle of 2011. This makes things easy for the Taliban, who have all the time in the world; they simply need to harass us patiently for 18 months, and then, as we step back, they will step forward.
We fight an enemy that is utterly unafraid to die, but we, good souls that we truly are, are afraid to kill. Our military is by far — by light-years — the strongest, best-trained, best-equipped, most sophisticated fighting force the world has ever seen; no enemy on Earth could hope to face us in full-scale conflict and live. But no army has ever won a war this way. Neither will we.
So: We have three options, none good:
A) We can leave now. B) We can stay and bleed forever. C) We can stay and bleed for 18 months, then leave anyway. (The fourth option, to cry “Havoc!”, and unleash our colossal war machine in all its incandescent fury, is not an option.)
Since I wrote this, over 1,400 more Americans have died in Afghanistan. Many more have been maimed. We have spent the better part of a trillion dollars on the Afghan campaign alone, much of which has gone into the pockets of warlords, politicians, and other profiteers, and another substantial portion of which is simply unaccounted for.
As we look back on all of this, what can we say we have achieved? What have we achieved in Libya? In Syria? In Iraq, which at least was once under our control, but is now fragmented and failing? What has our foreign policy, military or otherwise, achieved in any part of the Muslim world?
What ought we to learn from this?