There’s a reason Afghani- stan is called the “Graveyard of Empires”: No occupying force has succeeded in taming that ancient land. The British tried, as did the Russians, but all they had to show for their incursions into a country long torn apart by deeply rooted tribal rivalries were the obscenely large number of deaths and injuries of their servicemen and women and the crippling of their national treasuries.
It should come as no surprise, therefore, that America’s longest war is being fought in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the prospects of the conflict ending any time soon are slim.
On Monday, President Donald J. Trump told the nation the United States would not be pulling out of war-ravaged Afghanistan. Instead, the commander in chief will be sending additional forces to assist the Afghan military in its fight against Islamic extremist groups, including the Islamic State group, al-Qaida and the Taliban.
As a candidate for the presidency last year, Republican Trump harshly criticized former presidents George W. Bush, a Republican, and Barack Obama, a Democrat, for wasting U.S. “blood and treasure” in Afghanistan.
The U.S. toll from the 16-year war has been high. Some estimates place the cost at roughly $2 trillion, which reflects future obligations.
More than 2,400 Americans have died in Afghanistan, while thousands have suffered life-changing injuries.
Trump was adamant during the campaign that America should not be involved in such conflicts around the world and that the money would be better spent at home.
He succeeded in winning over traditional Democratic voters in the so-called Rust Belt, including the Mahoning Valley, with his “America First” pledge.
But President Trump struck a decidedly different note Monday night in his prime-time address to the nation.
He acknowledged his change of heart, but said his decision to not only keep American forces in Afghanistan but to increase the number came after a comprehensive review of the situation.
“The nation must seek an honorable and enduring outcome because of the sacrifices” made by American troops, he said.
The president also said the “consequences of a rapid exit are predictable and unacceptable.” He contended terrorists would take advantage of a withdrawal.
“I concluded the security threat faced in Afghanistan and the region are immense,” Trump said.
He made it clear the U.S. was intent on “killing terrorists” rather than “nation building.” And in true Trump fashion, he made this promise to the American people:
“In the end we will win.”
It is a promise that would appear to be unattainable in light of America’s 16-year history in Afghanistan. The word “quagmire” seems appropriate given that both former presidents Bush and Obama did whatever they could to rid the country of the Taliban and other like-minded organizations.
Unfortunately, the central government in Kabul has been unable to stem the spread of Islamic extremism in the tribal areas.
Although there are reports that President Trump intends to send an additional 3,900 troops to bolster the 8,400 Americans already on the ground, it isn’t clear what role they will play in meeting the objectives laid out by him. The objectives include obliterating ISIS, crushing al-Qaida, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan and, “stopping mass terror attacks against America before they emerge.”
The last objective is the same one embraced by Trump’s predecessors in justifying this country’s involvement in the war on global terrorism.
Indeed, the strategy has been credited with preventing another terrorist attack on America’s homeland like the one on Sept. 11, 2001, that claimed about 3,000 lives.
Today, however, the inability of the Afghan military to keep the country free of IS and other terrorists groups is cause for concern. Rampant government corruption is also undermining the war on terror.
In the end, President Trump had no choice but to maintain America’s presence in Afghanistan, given the growing threat of the Taliban regaining power under the auspices of some terrorist organization.