The war that Barack Obama promised to end two years ago is instead being expanded again, with reports of more airstrikes and ground combat to come, and a former top State Department official who resigned the last time the U.S. president surged in Afghanistan says all the latest escalation will achieve is a longer war with a lot more dead.
Last year was the worst year on record for Afghan civilians, according to the United Nations: at least 3,545 innocent men, women and children were killed and another 7,457 injured, beating the previous worst year on record since the United States invaded in 2001—the one before. A change, then, is needed, but the definition of idiocy is U.S. military policy, so the change that is coming is more of the same militarism that brought us to where we are today: renewed airstrikes against the Taliban insurgency and more deployments of U.S. troops on the frontlines.
“The renewed airstrikes against the Taliban in Afghanistan will have the same effect as the thousands and thousands of previous airstrikes we have conducted against the Afghan insurgency,” said Matthew Hoh, a former U.S. diplomat in Afghanistan who resigned from his post in 2009 to protest the war. By that time, President Obama had deployed 30,000 more troops since taking office to fight al-Qaida and the Taliban; six weeks after Hoh quit, Obama sent another 30,000, roughly tripling the size of the U.S. occupation he inherited from President George W. Bush.
The number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan has since declined from a high of around 100,000 to just under 10,000 today, not counting private contractors. But the mission Obama pledged to bring to an end by 2014 is now indefinite, and with U.S. troops now being empowered to call in even more airstrikes than they had before, it’s likely any more ground troops that do come home will be replaced by manned and remote-controlled aircraft.
“American airstrikes will make for triumphant press releases from the U.S. military in Kabul,” Hoh told teleSUR, “and it will kill many Taliban fighters, and also many civilians, but strategically and long term the airstrikes will not significantly weaken the Taliban.” In fact, more bombs—like the ones that fell on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz last year, killing over 40 people—may only help the insurgency even as it eliminates insurgents “by providing more public support to them due to the civilian casualties the airstrikes cause.”
Hoh sees the U.S. committing the same mistakes he’s seen time and again before. “Under General (David) Petraeus, starting in 2010, the U.S. initiated scores of airstrikes, as well as dozens of nighttime commando raids, daily against Afghan insurgent targets," he recalled. "Many of these strikes hit legitimate targets, but many more of them hit civilians. The surge in increase of public support for the Taliban in areas of the air and commando strikes is undeniable.”
It’s not that most Afghans particularly like the fundamentalist militants of the Taliban, nor do they look back with fondness on the austere if stable brand of state-enforced Islam that the Taliban imposed when in power. It’s just that some prefer the enemy they know to the enemy from abroad that kills them with anonymity at night, and often from above, and the enemy of thy enemy often becomes a temporary ally, tragicomic myopia not limited to U.S. policymakers backing war lords and calling them a government. It’s for the same reason that some Afghans may prefer the foreign occupiers to the insurgents responsible for the majority of civilian deaths: the foe who hurt you last encourages friendship with whoever's promsing to harm them next. And when one side escalates the alienating violence the other tends to respond in kind, and the cycle continues until the next president takes office.
All signs are that the cycle will continue. No one who stands a chance of winning the race for White House is calling for an end to the 15 years of failure. From Bernie Sanders to Donald Trump, the consensus is the same as it ever was: perpetual occupation for peace and security that's always just around the corner, if we'd only be patient. “The U.S. does not have a strategy," Hoh said, at least not "in any way that any person who has ever put together a plan of action or strategy for a business, construction project or even a kids’ soccer game would expect." Rather, he argued, “the U.S. is simply reacting to events.”
And for every U.S. reaction over the last decade and a half, there has been an equal and opposite action from the Afghan insurgency. For the country to fulfill its progressive potential, those with power—and troops and drones—will have to decide it is the time for the deadly cycle of idiocy to stop.
Charles Davis is an editor at teleSUR. Follow him on Twitter: @charliearchy