Free Minds & Free Markets

Why Are We Still in Afghanistan?

Our options have fallen into two categories: bad and worse.

The old peacenik slogan was, "What if they gave a war and nobody came?" Today, the question is, "What if they gave a war and nobody noticed?" The American mission in Afghanistan has borrowed a page from Harry Potter, draping itself in a cloak of invisibility.

Our war has lasted 17 years and cost upward of $1 trillion, including $45 billion this year. It has killed more than 2,300 Americans and wounded more than 20,000. Yet we recently completed an election campaign in which the conflict was rarely mentioned, much less debated. From a political point of view, this war is about as important as storms on Saturn.

But the spilling of American blood doesn't stop. On Tuesday, three U.S. service members were killed by a roadside bomb. Last week, an Army Ranger was fatally shot in a firefight. And for what?

When we invaded in 2001 to strike back at the Taliban, which had given safe haven to al-Qaida as it plotted the 9/11 attacks, victory seemed attainable. But the mission to eliminate a specific threat to the U.S. homeland soon gave way to a more ambitious project to make Afghanistan a stable, peaceful, and democratic nation. Before long, we were stuck in the Forever War.

George W. Bush and Barack Obama each failed to find the formula for success, and each decided to leave a steaming pile of hard choices to his successor. They stayed in Afghanistan not because they knew how to win the war but because they didn't. They elected to keep feeding American troops into the meat grinder rather than admit failure.

The result has been an endless loop of futility. The latest report of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction concluded that the Afghan government has control of no more than 55 percent of the country's districts—down 21 percent from the peak. Nearly 12 percent of the jurisdictions are in the grip of the Taliban, and 32 percent are up for grabs.

The Afghan security forces now bear the brunt of the fighting, with an average of 25 deaths per day. Thanks to steady attrition, their ranks are now the smallest they've been since 2012. Civilian casualties, however, are up nearly 40 percent this year compared with 2017.

We have tried ramping up to overwhelm the insurgents. Obama started in office intending to bring the war to an end, telling his aides, "I don't want to be going to Walter Reed for another eight years." He increased our troop strength from about 30,000 to more than 100,000, with the goal of turning the tide of the war enough for us to go home.

It made a modest difference. The Kabul government gained ground, and the Taliban lost it. But a U.S. commitment on that scale was not sustainable. And the long-sought improvements in Afghan governance and military prowess failed to materialize. As soon as Obama drew down forces, things went south once again.

Rather than pull out entirely, he agreed to keep some 8,400 troops in Afghanistan. Donald Trump, reluctant to look weak, nearly doubled that number. "The American people are weary of war without victory," he declared.

Wrong. The war causes no visible fatigue in the public because it requires no discernible contribution from the public. In any event, victory has eluded him, too.

For a long time, our options have fallen into two categories: bad and worse. The bad is withdrawing and letting the Afghans settle the war themselves, which could easily lead to a collapse of the government and a Taliban return to power. The worse is staying indefinitely, sacrificing American lives to preserve a stalemate.

But the enemy is sure to outlast us. The outlook recalls the comments of the prime minister of North Vietnam to a New York Times reporter early in the Vietnam War. "And how long do you Americans want to fight, Mr. Salisbury?" he asked. "One year? Two years? Three years? Five years? Ten years? Twenty years? We shall be glad to accommodate you."

The Taliban have shown comparable endurance. Their saying is, "The Americans have all the watches, and we have all the time."

Three American service members gave their lives Tuesday in support of an effort whose only remaining purpose is postponing the inevitable. They won't be the last to die for this mistake.

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  • JFree||

    This is the new normal. And was the major purpose in getting rid of the draft. No noodgy questions from the public so no need to provide answers. No need to even ask 'Why are we still there?'. We are. It just is and always will be. Hell we're not even paying for the war. Our grandchildren will - later.

    There's nothing to see here. Move along.

  • This Machine Chips Fascists||

    Why are we still there? Politics, fear, money, religion, poppies, hero-worship, more money, idiocracy, stuff like that.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    Afghanistan Quagmire? Giggity!

  • Ken Shultz||

    The main reason we're still in Afghanistan is that no president wants to be accused of the ultimate sin--squandering the lives of American heroes--and that's exactly what would happen if Trump, Obama, or Bush had withdrawn from Afghanistan.

    I'm not saying this is the way it should be, but this is the way it is: once American troops die on the ground, freedom and democracy become the only acceptable outcomes in the American mind. It's an excellent reason to only deploy ground troops with extreme reluctance. I suspect this has something to do with the radical Christian roots of our culture--when a soldier loses his life for our freedom and the freedom of others, he's emulating Jesus' sacrifice for us.

    The worst thing you could possibly be is a president who squanders the lives of our sacred heroes by pulling out of Afghanistan and leaving it much as it was when we arrived--as if the sacrifices of heroes meant nothing. It's essentially a sunk costs fallacy.

    That's why it was so hard to leave Vietnam. That's why it was so easy to leave Libya. That's why we're still in Afghanistan.

  • JFree||

    I suspect this has something to do with the radical Christian roots of our culture--when a soldier loses his life for our freedom and the freedom of others, he's emulating Jesus' sacrifice for us.

    Not really. It has to do with the Scots-Irish culture that is the core heritage in large parts of the US (basically everywhere where Scots-Irish music turned into bluegrass/country/etc) - has been the background of 17 Presidents and a even larger % of military officers (Jackson/Grant/Patton/McCain/Forrest/Stuart/etc) - and has been one of the 4 paradigms (Jacksonian)through which we traditionally see foreign policy. The key word is honor. The effect is as you describe - once in you can never retreat/withdraw/surrender/reassess unless the 'honor' part is met. Victory is the only possible endgame and not even the terms of that can be reassessed. Which means any conflict where there is no clear 'victory condition' will also be permanent.

  • JFree||

    The problem for the US (re say Afghanistan or any other issue that involves conflict) is that that Jacksonian mindset is really easy to manipulate for the two foreign policy paradigms that are interventionist (Hamiltonian - make the world safe for McDonalds/Citicorp/UnitedFruit/etc - and Wilsonian - make the world safe for human rights/democracy/etc). Just put the battery into the rabbit, start the conflict, and point the rabbit in that direction. Once the conflict is engaged, Jacksonians will never ask tetchy questions.

  • JFree||

    You are completely misreading BOTH Ken and my posts. We are both addressing a mindset that is absolutely real and very prevalent among Americans. NEVER EVER question a war once we are in it. Not justifying it or saying we agree with it. But recognizing that it EXISTS.

    Even during Vietnam. Nixon did not win his election because he promised to wind things down. He promised I pledge to you that we shall have an HONORABLE end to the war in Vietnam. The magic word to Jacksonians. After Kent St, a public opinion poll said that 58% of Americans said the students were to blame, 11% said the Guard, 30% said both - so basically 90% of the peeps had a real problem with peaceful protest itself - even if it was their own kids doing the protesting. My Lai and Abu Ghraib are not indicative of anything other than shit happens.

    To that mindset, we did not lose Vietnam. We fought until 1973. Got a peace agreement. Where Nixon then used the 'Peace With Honor' phrase to describe it. So Kissinger and Tho could get their Peace Prize. And that's IT. THAT is when Vietnam ended. 1975 is nothing more than the US refusing to re-engage when the peace agreement breaks down. And the whole point of ending conscription was to make sure that the experience would never happen again. Never again would a war be questioned - because volunteers (and military culture) are close to 100% Jacksonian.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    JFree, there is no point engaging crazy. And I know because I periodically get sucked in too.

  • JFree||

    You're a moron. You don't even ask yourself why is there no discussion AT ALL in this country about our involvement there after 17 years? Not on the left - not on the right. Not by Libertarians or by libertarians or by any fringe group. None in the last 17 years - and none for the next 17 or 70. And I'm pretty sure this thread will also die very empty and uncommented relative to others.

    There is a reason for that. Most of those commenting here actually seem to get that there's something weird (and deep) here. You - as usual - don't comprehend a thing.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    Hihn just wants to rant, rave, and insult everyone. There is no point to him.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    Everyone knows that after the crucifiction that Jesus later died and regenerated into his second body in the cave. We celebrate the event of his first regeneration as 'Easter'. Jesus then left shortly after to travel time and space. Battling aliens, monsters, cosmic cataclysms, etc.. Even thwarting several plans by the soulless artificial life form that calls itself 'Hillary Clinton' through the twenthieyamd twenty first centuries. Once even at the cost of his third incarnation.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    Hihn,ranting and raving again.

  • josh||

    I think that's part of it. I think there's a equally/more important part though. If we leave Afghanistan, and there's another 9/11, who do you think is going to get blamed? Politicians pass so many laws and do so many worthless things, in large part, to minimize the chances of being blamed if something bad happens. Even if you can't draw a connection between the two things, they're not going to risk that their political opponents won't spin it that way and they might lose an election.

  • MJBinAL||

    I want to get back to the basic point of our recent wars failure to end.

    It is often presented that we "can't win" for a variety of reasons including the "they have all the watches, we have all the time" one liner. This BS, as the key issue is common to all of these conflicts and contributes to our getting into conflicts easier and once in, finding they are "tar babies" we can't get out of.

  • MJBinAL||

    We do not fight war any more.

    The American Civil War, was won by the North because the North (Sherman is an example) was prepared to destroy the south to do so. Strip all the livestock, burn the fields, destroy the homes, (Burn Atlanta). The North was going to win, and to do so had to not just defeat the army of the south, but rather to destroy the support for the army of the south.

    World War II in Europe was won because we bombed the supporting industries of Germany, fire bombed Dresden, in essence to defeat the Germans it was necessary to destroy the civilian support for the German Armies.

    World War II in Japan was won because we bombed Nagasaki and Hiroshima with atomic bombs. We confirmed afterward that Japan was preparing for an invasion and planned to fight every foot of the way.

    We did not win in Korea, or Vietnam because we were not prepared to destroy North Korea or North Vietnam. Nixon considered, and planned, to bomb Hanoi, but was talked out of it. The support base for the enemy was deemed "off limits" and when that is done victory is impossible.

  • MJBinAL||

    In our more modern conflicts it has gotten worse. Now we have increased accuracy and precision in our weapons, and we have decided that we can win wars without harming the civilian population, and that have made that our goal. We agonize over civilian casualties and try to minimize them.

    In Afghanistan, we never accepted that the Taliban live there, and are supported by the population. So long as that support continues the Taliban can't be defeated. Is it impossible to win? No, but to do so we would have to define that ALL of Afghanistan is the enemy, and defeat them (kill them) until the are broken. We are not prepared to do that, and therefore cannot win.

    This idea that we can defeat an opponent without hurting the civilian population leads us to enter conflicts (war) that a true evaluation of the cost might discourage. And it prevents us from using sufficient force to win any war.

    To quote Sherman "War is Hell". Trying to make war humane, has the perverse effect of making it last forever, and be more bloody over the long haul. We need to embrace "War is Hell" in both our political and military realms.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Keep that in mind whenever you're tempted to argue that we should stop wasting American lives and treasure on a lost cause. Rightly or wrongly, the American mind doesn't believe it's a lost cause until we give up, and what you're asking them to give up on are the universal values of freedom--as if the people who've suffered and died somehow suffered and died for nothing.

    Keep that in mind as you cheer on NFL players who refuse to stand for the national anthem.

    Maybe the reason we're still in Afghanistan is because of people like you.

    Instead of denigrating the sacrifice of our heroes (subconsciously or otherwise), maybe try denigrating the locals who should have benefited most from our heroes' sacrifices. In the American mind, the people of Somalia became unworthy of the sacrifices of our heroes when they dragged the body of one of our heroes through the streets.

    That's the kind of argument that will get us out of Afghanistan.

  • SQRLSY One||

    "It's essentially a sunk costs fallacy."

    Amen, Bro!

    It's as if we're in the movies... Like Galaxy Quest... "Never give up, never surrender!"

    Would someone please tell ALL of our so-called "leaders" that we are living in real life, not in the movies?

  • Ken Shultz||

    I think we have to convince the American people we have--rather than change their culture.

    If they will not ever stop thinking blaming a president for abandoning the mission our heroes died for, then don't blame politicians for bowing the political reality.

    Blame the Afghans!

    We've given these people every opportunity, but they refuse to embrace it.

    Here's another aspect of our culture to consider--one of the things foreigners notice about Americans is that we're always saying thank you. We thank people for doing their jobs. We have a holiday, Thanksgiving, to celebrate gratitude. On that day, we expect people with nothing to sit there and think of something to be thankful for.

    Conversely, if there's one thing the American people can't stand, it's an ingrate.

    Convince the American people that the Afghans are a bunch of ingrates, and the rest of the argument for leaving Afghanistan all falls into place.

  • mtrueman||

    "We've given these people every opportunity, but they refuse to embrace it."

    Afghans have been killing Americans ever since the beginning of this century. They like to mine roads where Americans travel, and also to dress up as quisling gendarmes and kill the Americans send to 'help' with weapons supplied by none other than the Americans themselves. And foolish you are still holding out for gratitude? Ken, your opinions are as conventional as ever. Idiotically conventional.

  • MJBinAL||

    In Afghanistan, we never accepted that the Taliban live there, and are supported by the population. So long as that support continues the Taliban can't be defeated. Is it impossible to win? No, but to do so we would have to define that ALL of Afghanistan is the enemy, and defeat them (kill them) until the are broken. We are not prepared to do that, and therefore cannot win.

  • OldGuy||

    Interesting approach. The they-are-not-worthy doctrine.

  • Qsl||

    At this point I have to wonder, and the worst aspects of my conspiracy tendencies start with 1984 perpetual war scenarios... it's not like the country only gives lip service towards veterans anyway.

    Afghanistan is so far removed from public consciousness that a quiet withdraw would hardly be noticed. So short of claiming it as a vassal state or closing up shop, the why is perplexing. Especially given the rhetoric of reducing US obligations in NATO.

  • Ken Shultz||

    If Trump withdrew from Afghanistan, the White House press corps might never shut up about all the awful things that happened in Afghanistan because of it--at least until November of 2020.

  • Qsl||

    Does not compute. Bush, Obama, or even Trump (supposing he serves for another term) could have pulled the trigger on withdrawal in the twilight of their terms with little political fallout (at least none that they would have to answer to). Congress (from both parties) could grandstand on the corpses all they wanted, but it's not like any would argue for redeployment after the fact. Even they aren't that dumb.

    So the question of why still lingers. There has been more than enough opportunity for relatively painless withdrawal, and yet here we are.

  • Don't look at me!||

    If Trump pulled us out, he would be a hero, but certainly would not portrayed as one.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    If we got rid of all the progressives, then we could roll up our sleeves and get tot he work fo foxing this country. It will never happen as long as they exist in significant numbers

    Progressives are the enemy within.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    Amd then there are the mentally ill..........

  • MJBinAL||

    It is a shame you are incapable of rational thought. All we ever get from you are trite, repetitive taking points.

    We got it. Everyone hear has seen your blubs dozens of times at least. If you can't come up with something new, hopefully something not in boldface, featuring logical points with practical implementability, why don't you refrain from posting a while until you come up with some?

    It's not that we don't want to hear from you, it is rather we are tired of you repeating the same things over and over. And using boldface for and entire post, is not going make anyone agree with you. As it stands, even those who agree with you, are tired of your posts.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    You can't.

  • Stephen54321||

    How much blood and treasure can any one country, even America, keep pouring into a bottomless pit?

    17 Years on, unless some American president DOES have the courage to pull out, Afghanistan will eventually become America's 30 Years War. And then it's 100 years War.

  • James_R||

    "For a long time, our options have fallen into two categories: bad and worse. The bad is withdrawing and letting the Afghans settle the war themselves, which could easily lead to a collapse of the government and a Taliban return to power."...........And why exactly would that be a bad thing for the average American?

  • ||

    Well... for one thing, the Taliban let Al-Queda set up shop in Afghanistan and refused to turn them over after 9/11.

    The Taliban don't even pretend to have changed their ways.

  • James_R||

    I fail to see how the Taliban's failure to turn over a guy hiding out in Pakistan warranted an endless military occupation.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    Yes, yes, there was nothing else to it.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Put it to a nation-wide referendum, with two questions:

    1. Pick the location of Afghanistan on this global map.

    2. Should the US withdraw all troops and financial aid?

    (and only those ballots with a correct answer to question 1 get their response to question 2 counted)

  • Moderation4ever||

    I blame Congress. It is the Congress that is assigned role to declare war. They don't want to do this and so they give authorizations to use force and tell the President to use that for the next 20 years. The result has been series of quagmires. We were lucky in Korea, but Vietnam was a bust. Now we are stuck in the middle east. Congress will thump its chest but not do more. So how about this for an idea. If the Congress will not declare war then our troops will not fight. I would allow authorizations of force but they must sunset after a year and need to be replaced with a declaration of war.

  • MJBinAL||

    I agree with part of this, Congress needs to either declare war, or not fund peudo-wars.

    Looking at North Korea, I do not see where we were "lucky".

    Authorizations of force should be good for 90 days and should not be extended. If you can't figure out if you need to be at war there in 90 days, you should not be at war there.

  • Agammamon||

    We used to laugh at the Soviets for their idiocy in invading and trying to occupy Afghanistan. Now look at us.

  • Fancylad||

    If you guys pulled a British Empire and divided Afghanistan up into two - five parts along ethnic lines before leaving, they could spend all their time fighting each other instead of the West.

  • MJBinAL||

    Putin is certainly pretty smart.

    There is more needed that raw smarts. If that were the basis we would all be supporting Trump since he has the highest IQ since Bill Clinton. (What is it about those high IQ guys inability to keep their dick in their pants anyway?)

  • ||

    I notice Steve doesn't have any predictions as to what would happen if we leave....

  • Arizona_Guy||

    Seems to me the last well conducted military intervention was Desert Storm.

    The goal was clear cut and, more importantly, achievable. There was also an exit strategy.

    The US military achieved that goal, and left.

  • JFree||

    The US military achieved that goal, and left

    No we didn't leave at all. We sat our troops down in Khobar Towers and on various airfields around Saudi. We changed our mission to 'dual containment' (of both Saddam and Iran). Then proceeded to enforce no-fly zones in Iraq - and bomb civilians from on high whenever Saddam got a bit uppity. Which may have looked like 'we left' to people in the US - but not to anyone in the area or paying attention.

    Which is why the Khobar Towers were bombed in 1996 - followed a couple months later by binladen's first fatwa (Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places - that's the Saudi name for Saudi) - followed a couple years later by his second broader fatwa - followed by the 1998 embassy bombings - followed by 15 angry Saudis getting on airplanes in the US on 9/11.

  • Arizona_Guy||

    I stand corrected. I still stick by "The goal was clear cut and, more importantly, achievable."

  • loki||

    With 20,000 - 35,000 Taliban soldiers dead, switch back to the original goal of striking back at them for their involvement in 9/11, announce that they have received a good, hard spanking and declare it a victory. Bada Bing, Bada boom.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    Stimulus spending?

  • Gary in Texas||

    A quick, hard, vigorous punitive expedition after the attacks of September 11, 2001 would have been justified and made geopolitical sense. A seventeen year occupation turning American service people into policemen with targets on their backs and trying to change one of the least civilized places on earth into Belgium is not justified and makes no geopolitical sense. Bush should have pulled out after about three months. Obama should have pulled out as soon as he took office. The same goes for Trump. The war kills and injures American service people, diverts resources away from actual threats to national security, kills and injures more Afghans than Americans, and is in no observable way in our national interest. It is time to end it. If the politicians do not do that, it is far past time for Americans to demand that politicians supporting the war explain why they think it is in the national interest, what they expect the war to accomplish, and how they will know when it has been accomplished. I doubt any of them will be able to do it.

  • josh||

    What's sad is that 9/11 happened, in large part, because we learned all the wrong lessons from history and didn't see the threat coming before it was too late. Now, we're learning all the wrong lessons from 9/11.

  • Uncle Jay||

    Let us all be grateful we are military and economically engaged in the Afghanistan war.
    After all, the American taxpayer has an abundance of excess capital to give to this needless and endless war.
    Plus, America has too many people living here, and having a war is a good way to cull the heard of the excess population that drain our precious resources and oxygen.
    So let's all to to Washington, DC and have a pro-war demonstration to show our appreciation to the ruling elitist filth on wasting our money and American lives.

  • mtrueman||

    Let's add a word of thanks to the plucky Taleban. I doubt there's anyone else in the world who could bleed the yankee elephant white with such gusto and elan.

  • Ghost on the Highway||

    Wasn't this Obama's "Good War"?

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    The 'good war' magically transformed into a bad war once again January 20th, 2017.

  • Cranedoc||

    From the viewpoint of our military, we are in Afghanistan for one reason: live fire exercises. Our military gets to use lives and treasure to hone itself against an intractable enemy. If we didn't have Afghanistan, we'd need to declare war on some other similarly hapless backwards nation so we could train our troops and test our newest weapons.

  • Cranedoc||

    Give war a chance...

  • An Innocent Man||

    No president wants to be responsible if far down the road there is a terrorist attack that has even the most tenuous connection to Afghanistan.

  • Disenchanted libertarian||

    What is the big deal??? These military actions are merely one of the costs of empire. As long as our rulers can con enough people into going in harms way in service to the empire and the majority of the rest into monetarily supporting the empire, it will continue. People should perform their due diligence before choosing to serve an evil master!

  • Widhalm19||

    This is a simple question to answer .... the US remains in Afghanistan because it affords a testing grounds for US military hardware in live fire exercises and because war department contractors are making billions of dollars. There is no other logical reason.

  • Widhalm19||

    This is a simple question to answer .... the US remains in Afghanistan because it affords a testing grounds for US military hardware in live fire exercises and because war department contractors are making billions of dollars. There is no other logical reason.

  • Sandab||

    How much will it cost the next time they bomb a U.S. city? Better fight them there than here.

  • mtrueman||

    You never heard of home ice advantage?

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    Where do you live? We can let them bomb you guys where you live. Me, I'm a big fan of away games.

  • Peacedog||

    The primary lesson of the War on Terror is that large uncontrolled masses of land with free entry and exit are a bad idea. Criminals, terrorists and other people with bad intentions like to use spaces like this to do, and plan to do, bad things.

    Playing defense and waiting to respond to their inane behavior is an even worse idea. This was one of the worst legacies of the Clinton Administration's total failure to deal with the issue. I'm pretty sure an even halfway competent terrorist group given freedom of movement could, on average, do far more than $45B in damage per year over time. Particularly when you add up the secondary costs of the criminal operations used to fund their terror operations.

    The reason why 30 plus countries continue to send personnel there is to keep the current group of bad guys in place and any more from showing up. FWIW, sub-Saharan Africa is shaping up to be even worse now that it has developed to the point where people can actually move around.

    And the idea that these clowns do what they do was in response to the US presence in Saudi Arabia/the Middle East/my grandmother's back yard is the ultimate in ignorance. These punks have been raiding, slaving and occupying anyone and everyone they can since the 6th century AD. People here tend to forget that 25% of the early budget of the US was spent on paying these guys off until we developed enough military power to force them into their current box.

  • Bill Goode||

    The only reason US troops are still in Afghanistan is to protect the poppy fields for herion production. My gosh, where would America be without the CIA giving us a constant supply of heroin from Afghanistan?


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