Tue. Jan 21st, 2020

Obama, Interpreted: What 8,400 U.S. Troops in Afghanistan Really Means

By Daniel L. Davis

Last week at the White House, the president announced his decision regarding troop levels in Afghanistan through the remainder of his term of office. Let me translate his words into the reality of what the decisions mean on the ground. In sum: I’m going to claim my eight years in office achieved success and kept the country safe; I will do whatever it takes to make sure the Kabul government doesn’t collapse between now and January; and I will punt it to the next president.

Below are the four key passages of the president’s speech and my commentary on the reality of each situation.

1. “The United States will maintain approximately 8,400 troops in Afghanistan into next year, through the end of my administration. . . . [This troop level] will allow us to continue to provide tailored support to help Afghan forces continue to improve.”

Over past twelve months, the Afghan National Defense Security Forces (ANDSF) have struggled mightily in the field, suffered record casualties and lost embarrassing battles to the Taliban. Dropping U.S. force levels by more than one thousand is not going to “continue” helping the ANDSF to improve. It will make the already-tiny U.S. contingent even less relevant to events on the ground. 8,400 troops will ensure Kabul doesn’t fall to the Taliban, but little else.

2. “My decision today also sends a message to the Taliban and all those who have opposed Afghanistan’s progress. . . . I will say it again—the only way to end this conflict . . . is through a lasting political settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban. That’s the only way.”

He’d better hope that’s not the only way to end the fighting, because the Taliban surely don’t believe they’re not prevailing. The United States killed the leader of the Taliban last May and in response the newly elevated Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhundzada categorically rejected peace talks. Instead, they’ve ramped up their violence in the country, highlighted two weeks ago by a massive suicide blast that killed and wounded almost ninety Afghan policemen. Akhundzada warned the United States earlier this month that “the Afghan Muslim people neither fear. . . your force nor your stratagem. They consider martyrdom in confrontation with you as a cherished goal of their life.”

3. “Because we have emphasized training and [ANDSF] capabilities, we’ve been able to end our major ground war there and bring 90 percent of our troops back home. . .. This is where Al Qaeda is trying to regroup. This is where ISIL continues to try to expand its presence. If these terrorists succeed in regaining areas and camps where they can train and plot, they will attempt more attacks against us. We cannot allow that to happen. I will not allow that to happen.”

The president’s firm declaration notwithstanding, U.S. plans and military strategies are not going to be a factor in deciding whether Al Qaeda and the Islamic State expand their presence or not. I was on the ground in Afghanistan at the height of the surge in 2011 when there were upwards of one hundred and fifty thousand NATO combat troops on the ground. I personally observed vast areas of the mountains of northeastern Afghanistan, the rocky deserts in the southeast and the fertile valleys in the south central where the Taliban and other terror groups operated with virtual impunity. With troop numbers now barely 8 percent of 2011 totals, the president’s claim that he “will not allow” terrorists to create camps in Afghanistan is without substance.

4. “But with our support, Afghanistan is a better place than it once was. Millions of Afghan children—boys and girls—are in school. Dramatic improvements in public health have saved the lives of mothers and children. Afghans have cast their ballots in democratic elections and seen the first democratic transfer of power in their country’s history.”

Many items on the president’s list of accomplishments are genuine. Sadly, however, the appearance of progress is illusory. As the United States has proven almost every time it has tried to impose Western values and institutions of this sort on foreign nations, they don’t stick. The following excerpt from an analysis of US attempts to defeat insurgencies around the world from 1850 to 1941 by the Army’s Center of Military History is perfectly illustrative. In regards to the U.S. attempts to defeat insurgents and modernize Cuba from 1989–1902:

Single Column Posts

1 min read

Afghanistan’s former president argued Tuesday that Washington helped fuel corruption in his nation by spending hundreds of millions of dollars over the past two decades...

1 min read

On Monday, the Washington Post published what it calls a “secret history” of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, comprising 2,000 pages of interviews with senior...

1 min read

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates discussed a planned refinery in the western Indian state of Maharashtra that will cost at least $70 billion,...

2 min read

Google had warned at least 500 Indians about "government-backed" phishing attacks against them between July and September this year, the technology giant said in a...

3 min read

On Thanksgiving eve, President Donald Trump slipped unnoticed out of his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida on his way to a bare-bones military plane with just...

3 min read

Both New Delhi and Kathmandu lay claim to a region, known as Kalapani, as part of their countries' territory. India's new political map has stirred...

1 min read

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's governing party has suffered a big setback in western Maharashtra state after its longtime ally broke away and joined two...

1 min read

The spokesperson was responding to a question as to why Secretary General Antonio Guterres is reluctant to take on the issue of India and Pakistan....

1 min read

The U.S. Navy dismissed charges on August 6 against four SEALs accused of abusing detainees in Afghanistan seven years ago, AP reported. The four SEALs...

1 min read

A leading Afghan presidential candidate suspended his campaign Thursday, casting increasing doubt that the elections will be held as scheduled on Sept. 28. Mohammad Hanif...