Afghanistan 12 Years In: Corruption, "Civil War," and the Release of a Taliban Commander For Peace

No end in sight?


no final frontier
US Air Force

While the US improvs its way toward military intervention in Syria, the US war in Afghanistan is approaching its 12 year mark. There have been 2,144 US combat deaths since the start of military operations in 2001, with more than 70 percent coming under the Obama Administration. President Obama entered office campaigning on Afghanistan as the "good war," and eventually dithered into a surge of 30,000 troops at the end of 2009. The Obama Administration failed to capitalize on any momentum created by the surge to seek a diplomatic solution. Indeed the White House team did its best to thwart attempts by diplomats like Richard Holbrooke, the US envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan at the beginning of Obama's first term, to seek a diplomatic solution and political exit from Afghanistan.

Instead, the US continues to rely on spending money to make political progress in Afghanistan; nearly $100 billion has been spent by the US on "development" in the country, yet US authorities haven't even implemented the basic anti-corruption measures they themselves crafted. The US finally came aboard a peace process earlier this year, though it didn't stop President Obama from pressuring the outgoing Afghan president Hamid Karzai to consent to the presence of US troops in Afghanistan past 2014, a date Obama's set for "withdrawal" and the year Karzai is supposed to be replaced in elections. Pakistan agreed earlier this week to release the Afghan Taliban's number two commander, who the CIA helped capture in 2010, something apparently seen by both Afghan and American officials as helpful to bring the Taliban on board peace talks.

Three years ago, when US troops were in the midst of a surge in Afghanistan, was the time to try a peace process, Holbrooke and others argued. The US military was making gains, clearing areas of Taliban and other extremists, but those gains could not be permanent without a permanent US presence. They could have been used, however, to exercise leverage in any negotiated withdrawal. Instead the surge came and went without much political effort expended to support it. The president's set a 2014 withdrawal deadline he says doesn't mean there won't be any troops left in Afghanistan after then.  There's an election scheduled in Afghanistan next year too, one the Taliban has said is irrelevant, accusing the US in advance of controlling it. Karzai, meanwhile, summoned a US diplomat over his comments that Afghanistan was in the throes of a "civil war."

So the US continues to run military operations in an Afghanistan that may be in a civil war, to spend money on its corrupt government, to try to jump-start a peace process, and to continue to insists it's leaving but also staying in the country past 2014. In all this, the Obama Administration appears more interested pushing an "unbelievably small" military action in Syria because US credibility is apparently on the line when a dictator allegedly uses chemical weapons a lot more than it is over a nearly generation long war with no end in sight in Afghanistan.