After more than 17 years of conflict, the White House has signalled its intent to withdraw from Afghanistan. Washington’s current efforts to reach a peace deal with the Taliban highlight its increasing impatience with the enduring war in Afghanistan and its desire to leave the conflict. It needs to be remembered that the United States, which sent troops to Afghanistan in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington and at the peak of the deployment had more than 100,000 troops in the country, withdrew most of its forces in 2014, but still keeps around 14,000 troops there as part of a NATO-led mission aiding the Afghan security forces and hunting militants. America has lost more than 2,400 soldiers and spent more than $900 billion in its longest war.
The decision by President Trump to withdraw 7,000 of the roughly 14,000 American troops left in Afghanistan, possibly by summer, has raised new concerns about his impulsive behaviour, especially given his nearly simultaneous decision to pull out all American forces from Syria against the advice of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. But the downsizing of the Afghan mission was probably inevitable. Indeed, it may soon be time for the United States to get out of the country altogether.
No other country in the world symbolizes the decline of the American empire as much as Afghanistan. There is virtually no possibility of a military victory over the Taliban and little chance of leaving behind a self-sustaining democracy – facts that Washington’s policy community has mostly been unable to accept.
While many American troops stay behind steel-reinforced concrete walls to protect themselves from the very population they are supposed to help, it is striking how little discussion Afghanistan has generated in government and media circles in Washington. When it comes to Afghanistan, Washington has been a city hiding behind its own walls of shame and frustration.
While the Chinese, Pakistanis, Indians and Iranians are all developing competing energy and mining projects in and next door to Afghanistan, the United States appears to have little commercial future in the country, even though it spends about $45 billion there annually. The total cost of the war could reach as high as $2 trillion when long-term costs are factored in, according to Brown University’s Cost of War Project. All that to prop up an unstable government that would most likely disintegrate if aid were to end.
Indeed, Afghanistan represents the triumph of the deterministic forces of geography, history, culture, and ethnic and sectarian awareness, with Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras and other groups competing for patches of ground. Tribes, warlords and mafia-style networks that control the drug trade rule huge segments of the country. To show just how perverted Western experts’ view of the situation has become, the British regional specialist Anatol Lieven, writing in The National Interest, argues that “just because the US money was stolen does not mean that it was wasted,” since it has gone to paying off tribal chiefs to keep them from joining the Taliban or becoming feuding warlords.
Read More: Endgame in Afghanistan
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