Tuesday, March 13, 2018|2 a.m.
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“The war is over.”
— Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in Afghanistan (April 2002)
“I think success is closer than before.”
— Vice President Mike Pence in Afghanistan (December 2017)
With metronomic consistency, every thousand days or so, Americans ought to offer some believed to the longest war in their nation’s history. The war in Afghanistan, which is turning into one of the longest in world history, reaches its 6,000 th day Monday, when it will have ground on for substantially more than four times longer than U.S. participation in World War II from Pearl Harbor to V-J Day (1,346 days).
America went to war in Afghanistan because that not-really-governed country was the safe haven from which al-Qaeda prepared the 9/11 attacks. It was not mission creep but objective gallop that turned the intervention into a war versus the Taliban who had provided, or a minimum of not prevented, the safe haven. So, the United States was on an objective opposed by an expected ally next door– Pakistan, which through Directorate S of its intelligence service has actually supported the Taliban.
This interesting, if dispiriting, story is told in Steve Coll’s new book “Directorate S: The CIA and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” There can not be many tricks about this topic that are not in Coll’s almost 700 pages.
He reports when Gen. Stanley McChrystal went to Afghanistan in May 2002, “A senior Army officer in Washington told him, ‘Do not construct (Bondsteels),’ referring to the NATO base in (Kosovo) that Rumsfeld saw as a sign of peacekeeping objective creep. The officer cautioned McChrystal against ‘anything here that looks long-term. … We are not remaining long.’ As McChrystal took topography, ‘I seemed like we were high-school trainees who had actually wandered into a Mafia-owned bar.'” It has been a learning experience. After blowing up tunnels, some practically as long as a football field, that were thought to be produced by and for terrorists, U.S. officials found out that they were an ancient irrigation system.
A years earlier, seven years after the war began on Oct. 7, 2001, then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stated the United States goal was the creation of a strong central government. When he was asked if Afghanistan had ever had one, he addressed without hesitation: “No.” Which is still real.
Years have passed because the time when, years into the war, U.S. military and civilian officials heatedly debated “counterinsurgency” as contrasted with “counterterrorism,” differences that now seem less than vital. Coll says of military leaders turning in and out of Afghanistan yearly, “The commanders starting a rotation would say, ‘This is going to be challenging.’ Six months later, they ‘d say, ‘We might be turning a corner.’ At the end of their rotation, they would say, ‘We have actually accomplished irreparable momentum.’ Then the next command group being available in would pronounce, ‘This is going to be hard.'” The earnestness and valor that Americans have given Afghanistan are as heartbreaking as they are admirable.
For 73 years, U.S. troops have actually been on the Rhine, where their presence helped win the Cold War and now serves vital U.S. interests as Vladimir Putin fires up Cold War 2.0. Considerable numbers of U.S. soldiers have been in South Korea for 68 years, and couple of people are absurd adequate to question the effectiveness of this deployment, or to believe that it will or need to end soon. It is imaginable, and conceivably preferable, that U.S. forces will be in Afghanistan, lending intelligence, logistical and even lethal support to that country’s military and security forces for another 1,000, possibly 6,000, days.
It would, nevertheless, be valuable to have a description of U.S. interests and objectives beyond vice governmental boilerplate about how “We will see it through to the end.” And (to U.S. troops) how “the roadway prior to you is appealing.” And how the president has “let loose the full range of American military may.” And how “reality and truths and a relentless pursuit of victory will guide us.” And how U.S. forces have “crushed the enemy in the field” (or at least “put the Taliban on the defensive”) in “this fight for flexibility in Afghanistan,” where Bagram Airfield is “a beacon of flexibility.” If the U.S. goal is liberty there instead of security here, or if the theory is that the latter in some way depends on the previous, the administration ought to clearly state so, and safeguard those propositions, or liquidate this undertaking that has, up until now, expense about $1 trillion and 2,200 American lives.
George Will is a writer for The Washington Post.