Afghanistan: What the hell do we do now?

This thread has two purposes:

  1. We’re ~16 years into this war, and there is no end in sight. I’m wondering what the thoughts are here about what we do going forward.

  2. Trump is going to announce his new strategy for Afghanistan tonight, so I figured we might as well have a thread to discuss that.

My own sense is we set a timeframe and get out. I don’t know if it’s one year, or two years, or 5 years, but sometime in that range we to tell the Afghan government: you’re on your own. If you need us to bomb some terrorist training camp, give us a call and we’ll send a drone or something to take it out if we think it’s in our country’s interest to do so. But we’re done. You’re country is beautiful and we’d love to stay, but we think we’ve been here long enough.

As for Trump’s plan, I’m guessing he’ll punt and just do more of the same. “The Generals” aren’t going to tell him to cut and run, so he’ll keep some troops over there and call them “trainers” and support staff and try to prop up the government as long as we can. I think most presidents would not want to be the one who “lost Afghanistan”. Bernie might not care about that, but he’s a rare bird.

The NYT had an in-depth story 2 Sunday’s ago about Iran, of all countries, helping out the Taliban in order to create instability in Afghanistan. And you have Pakistan and the Russians doing similar things. It’s a shame, but unless we think we can dedicate ourselves to a century (or maybe more) of nation building, there’s little we can do except shore things up in the short term. I’m not seeing what that does except prolong the inevitable.

Peace and harmony between Pakistan and India is what’s really needed. Until then, good luck stabilizing Afghanistan.

I agree, but this approach is also what helped create ISIS in Iraq.

You should be more worried about India and China at this stage. Not sure why this doesn’t get mentioned much around here, but the whole situation is pretty scary IMHO.

As to the OP:

Gods help us. :eek:

Not sure. Optimally, I’d say we get out now. Setting a time frame doesn’t seem to work very well. Realistically, I don’t know if we can just get out or even if we should. It’s like Iraq…everyone was all for getting out, but the US pull out really didn’t solve anything except with our own public who have ignored it since we got most of the troops out…even though we are still there, by and large.

I don’t think any of the time frames you mention there would be meaningful. What will be substantially different in 2 years, or 5? I doubt anything wrt the US supported government, stability or even the war with the Taliban. What we probably need to do, even though I don’t see it as political realistic, is something like the surge in Iraq…basically, go in and hammer the Taliban, the remnants of AQ and whatever ISIS has there, assert stability (well, quasi-stability), then turn it over to the Afghani’s and, along with NATO, pull back to something similar to what we have in Iraq today, more an advisory role.

But we won’t do any of that, and instead, we’ll probably screw around as we have been for years to come until the pressure builds and we just leave, solving nothing long term and just leaving a mess.

The reason I want to set a timeframe is so we are clear with our intentions to the Afghan government. It wouldn’t be fair to just exist all at once (which we probably couldn’t do, logistically anyway), but make it 100% crystal clear that they will be on their own at X point in the future. If they think they can always fall back on us, they’ll never get their shit together (assuming that is something that is even possible for them to do).

What exactly is the rational offered by the US military for staying in Afghanistan?

Is it basically to prevent it from turning into another ISIS proving ground like Iraq/Syria?

I think the argument against setting an exit date is that it gives enemies a hard target for waiting out the US presence and an ability to prepare and plan for the day after they leave.

To do what? I’m not sure.

More to prevent the Taliban from once again regaining control. That seems a pretty valid reason to me, as the last time the Taliban was in control didn’t work out all that well for us or for the region. I’m not sure what the answer to the OPs question is, but it’s not like we are there for the fun of it…there are valid military as well as political reasons for our involvement in the region at this point.

I’ve never been convinced that’s a real issue. We’re gonna leave at some point, and that has to be planned for. It’s not something you can keep a secret, and even if you did, so what? They’d still know when we were gone.

Obama adhered strictly to Bush’s time frame for exiting Iraq; so I’m thinking these things probably aren’t up to presidents.

Every Western country (and quite a few non-Western ones) has a “valid reason” for not wanting the Taliban back. We’re the only country stupid enough to pretend we can really do anything about it.

The problems with Afghanistan are political, but we act as if they were military problems. We’re not fighting Nazi Germany here. The Taliban goes where we are not. They’re in Pakistan right now, so what difference does it make if they move back into Afghanistan?

ISTM, people have a lot of wrong-headed ideas about why (and, apparently, when) ISIS formed and the relationship between ISIS and U.S. troop withdrawal in Iraq. I wouldn’t be drawing too many lessons between ISIS and our options going forward in Afghanistan.

Da-esh is just one incarnation of the reaction folks in the region have to the complete disfunction of the local governments. Unless you fix the governments, you’re going to get Da-esh or the Taliban or something else like it. If you really want to minimize Da-esh and its ilk, you’re best backing a strong, authoritarian government that will stamp it out without worrying too much about human rights. We don’t want to do that, so we’re stuck in the middle with these half-measures that don’t do much except push the problem somewhere else.

Well, NATO has stopped combat operations, but this was after 13 years. They actually still have support troops there assisting, so I don’t think we are the ONLY nation ‘stupid enough to pretend we can really do anything about it’. I’d also argue that we don’t think we can really do anything about the systemic clusterfuck issues…we have been there and continue to be there to basically keep a lid on things so they don’t go completely off the rails. Which is what would happen if we left.

Are they? I don’t think all of them are. The Taliban is not likely to negotiate for anything less than a return to power. That’s political in one respect, but since they are pressing their case via military means that complicates things, especially since it’s unacceptable for the Taliban to be allowed back into power. ISIS is definitely not a political issue that can simply be solved through diplomacy and compromise.

I think making broad statements about something like this is generally a bad idea. Not all of the problems in the region are military…but not all of them are political either. The US has not done a stellar job on either side of this, but we haven’t totally ignored either. We’ve tried to push a political agenda in both Iraq and Afghanistan but often we run up against factions that have mutually exclusive aims and goals.

They go where we are not willing to go in the numbers we aren’t willing to use. I agree though…we aren’t fighting the Nazis here, though not sure how relevant that is to the discussion.

They aren’t in power in Pakistan. Moving back into Afghanistan after a US pullout would or could potentially change that equation. Whether you think that’s important or not is, of course, debatable.

The cynic in me believes that no presidents want to admit defeat, even if it’s a war they didn’t start. Trump being least likely to do so.

I think the generals feel a sense of responsibility for any progress that has been made in Afghanistan. Schools, hospitals, etc… I think there are real relationships and friendships that they’ve built with the local friendlies. They justifiably don’t want to abandon them to the wolves of Taliban knowing that the Afghan government will not be able to defend the hard fought progress made to date.

I agree. It’s not my reasoning, it’s just the most common one expressed by talking heads.

Sure. To the extent the example of ISIS is helpful, it’s through very loose metaphor. But you might just as well observe that when you remove good guys with guns from a place, the bad guys will have more freedom for some period of time.

That’s true, of course, but it’s not very helpful in thinking through the actual consequences, short- and long-term, of withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.

What do you think we should do?

You mean, beyond think clearly about the problem? :slight_smile:

I follow events in the region, but I don’t consider myself especially well-informed. So I don’t have strong views. I am highly skeptical about the theory that we can tamp down on violence and disorder while political order has a chance to establish itself. Any political order established in an arbitrary equilibrium maintained by force seems unlikely to be a stable order. And it certainly doesn’t seem likely to work with just a few more years of fighting. But those are just my priors, and not views based on careful consideration of the arguments made by experts.

I know very little about Afghanistan, so I’ll just say that in general terms the options are probably the following three:

  1. Nation build.
  2. Leave, but expect to go back every once in a while, take out a few dictators, and hope that eventually the country decides to modernize on its own.
  3. Leave, let it rot.

I’d say that not doing any of those three is, fundamentally, a waste of time. If you want to do #1, then just take control of the country and run it like a colony until its up to snuff. Anything much less and, again, you’re just wasting time. You’re not going to achieve anything more than you would through option 2, and option 2 is cheaper.

Option 3 is almost certainly never going to happen. You might think it will, but eventually you’re going to fly in and take out some dictators. Bleeding hearts are going to force you into option 1 or 2 no matter what.

Personally, I’m a fan of nation building if you can get away with it. The main problem is that usually there’s no good excuse and the world looks unfavorably on conquering foreign states (reasonably so). If we’re basically keeping the country running anyways, then just suck it up and own the puppy.