Earlier this year, Gen. John Nicholson, commander of US Forces in Afghanistan, told Congress that the military situation with the Taliban was at a stalemate and said he needed “a few thousand” additional troops to tip the balance against them.
As is painfully clear, however, the situation in Afghanistan is far worse than a stalemate, and even if the president increased the number of troops there, the war would only be lost at a higher cost.
The day after the Military Times reported on Gen. Nicholson’s troop increase request, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) quietly released a devastating report that exposed just how bad the situation truly is. Some of the more damning findings of SIGAR’s report include:
- A dangerous and stubborn insurgency controls or exerts influence over areas holding about one-third of the Afghan population.
- Approximately 12,000 conflict-related civilian casualties occurred in 2016-– the highest total civilian casualties recorded since UNAMA began documenting them in 2009.
- Security incidents throughout 2016 and continuing into the first quarter of 2017 reached their highest level since UN reporting began in 2007.
- 660,639 people in Afghanistan fled their homes due to conflict in 2016-– the highest number of displacements on record and a 40 percent increase over the previous year.
- Casualties suffered by the ANDSF in the fight against the Taliban and other insurgents continue to be shockingly high: 807 were killed in the first six weeks of the year; 1,328 wounded between January 1, 2017 and February 24, 2017.
- Of 190 countries, Afghanistan is nearly last in dealing with construction permits (186), acquiring electricity (159), registering property (186), trading across borders (175), and enforcing contracts (180), according to the World Bank’s Doing Business report.
Capt. William Salvin, a US military spokesman in Afghanistan, said the additional troops “would be used to [train, advise, assist] below the corps level for the Afghan National Army and below the zone level for the Afghan National Police.”
It is truly difficult to divine the logic that would lead senior US military and civilian leaders to credibly claim that adding even up to 5,000 troops to train and advise Afghan troops would have any chance to turn the tide of war when upwards of 140,000 US and NATO troops proved insufficient to perform the same task in 2011.
This request marks at least the fourth time since 2008 that a new US ground commander in Afghanistan has requested additional troops to train, advise, and assist Afghan troops. Each request was granted by the president at the time, and in each previous iteration, the effort failed.
If President Trump likewise grants Gen. Nicholson’s request, this incarnation will fail just as surely as all previous efforts because the problem is not insufficient numbers of troops—it’s a flawed strategy.
There are those in Washington who believe that if the US provides more troops, more expertise, and more money, the Afghan Security Forces could be trained to perform to a satisfactory level, the Taliban could be defeated, and the Afghan government would no longer be corrupt. This is simply not true.
To date, three US Administrations have spent a total of $826.7 billion on direct appropriations to pay for combat operations, training efforts, and advisory missions.
Even if President Trump, in an effort to go all-out and win the war, decided to deploy 200,000 troops, the result would still be failure. There are major, fundamental reasons why the US has not been able to win the war since it began in 2001.
Central to them all, however, has been an unwillingness to acknowledge that a solution cannot be imposed from Washington.
The US has acted in good faith and given the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan every opportunity to end the war. It is time to stop feeding the status quo of failure, acknowledge the reasons for our shortcomings, and shift strategies and place the future success or failure of the war where it belongs: to be decided by the people and government of Afghanistan.
Daniel L. Davis is a Senior Fellow for Defense Priorities and a former Lt. Col. in the US Army who retired in 2015 after 21 years, including four combat deployments.
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