Tuesday, July 28, 2020

America's Longest (failed) War

On October 7, 2001 President George Bush launched Operation Enduring Freedom.  On March 8, 2020 President Donald Trump began the final withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, with the intent of having entirely left the country before the November 3, 2020 Presidential elections in the USA.  At 19 years plus change, this will have been America's longest running military conflict by far.  Which raises the obvious questions:

What was its purpose? 
Were our national interests successfully met?
Why did we stay so long?
And what are we leaving behind?

THE PURPOSE OF THE WAR IN AFGHANISTAN

The following brief summary is from the Naval History and Heritage Command.

In response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people, Operation Enduring Freedom officially began October 7, 2001, with American and British bombing strikes against al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in Afghanistan. Initially, the Taliban was removed from power and al-Qaeda was seriously crippled, but forces continually dealt with a stubborn Taliban insurgency, infrastructure rebuilding and corruption among the Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police, and Afghan Border Police.
On May 2, 2011, U.S. Navy SEALS launched a raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, killing the al-Qaeda leader and mastermind of the September 11th terrorist’s attacks (O’Rourke). Operation Enduring Freedom officially ended December 28, 2014, although coalition forces remain on the ground to assist with training Afghan security forces (Torreon).
The U.S. Navy had two Medal of Honor recipients during Operation Enduring Freedom, both Navy SEALS, Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy and Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator Edward C. Byers Jr.
References
O’Rourke, Ronald. 2015. “Navy Irregular Warfare and Counterterrorism Operations: Background and Issues for Congress.” Congressional Research Report for Congress (November 6): 1.
Torreon, Barbara. 2016. “U.S. Periods of War and Dates of Recent Conflicts.” Congressional Research Report for Congress (September 29): 6–7.
So, the purpose of the war was to deny the Taliban a base for striking the United States, and - if possible - to punish them and Osama bin Laden for the attacks on the USA homeland on September 11, 2001.  

THE TRUMP WITHDRAWAL PLAN:  ABANDON THE AFGHANI GOVERNMENT, AND TRUST THE TALIBAN.
The US/Taliban agreement:  President Trump has consistently argued that there is little or no ongoing United States vital interest served by the use of US troops in Afghanistan.  As a candidate, and as the Commander in Chief, he has repeatedly said that troops must come home.  Entering the election year of 2020, he directed both the State Department and the Military to open negotiations with the Taliban, seeking an end to hostilities with the US and to prepare an orderly removal of our troops from Afghanistan.  He even went as far as to promote an invitation for Taliban leaders to meet in a peace conference at Camp David.  Ultimately, the only agreement to surface from those efforts was a promise on the part of the Taliban that, concurrent with the removal of several thousand US soldiers beginning this past March, 2020, they would cease attacking US forces.  
The Political Vacuum:  By all visible evidence our forces have been methodically withdrawing and leaving since March, and the Taliban have conspicuously avoided striking any US assets in the theater.  During this time, there was a final election in Afghanistan, purportedly installing a democratic and legitimate government so the US could claim that the government of Afghanistan was in place to tend to its own needs.  Predictably, the Taliban do no accept that election and continue to attack Afghani government forces and centers, pursuing a civil war which will overcome the country the day our last soldier leaves.  
The Outcome vs. our Original Goals:  Given the absence of a compelling US national interest, this would make sense.  However, the primary goal of the war was to deny the Taliban a base for striking the United States.  Is the agreement with the Taliban a new detente, allowing the Taliban to own Afghanistan once again with the understanding that they can never allow another Osama to plot from there to attack us?  It is the only logical conclusion.

What only history will tell:
So, in conclusion, the only goal met was the elimination of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.  The Taliban are now re-ensconced and, with Russian support, will quickly overrun the Afghan experiment in US sponsored democracy.  While it may have been worth it to get Osama bin Laden at first, way back on May 2, 2011, the subsequent 9 years are being rewarded by a retreat that is justified only by trusting the Taliban's good will and giving them back Afghanistan in the deal.
From here it will be the primary task of the Intelligence Community to monitor and destabilize any emergent anti-US forces in Afghanistan.  Welcome back to 2000.  Let's hope for a better outcome.