It’s been seventeen years since George W. Bush ordered the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. 2,200 Americans have died in an effort to oust Muslim extremists from the “Graveyard of Empires.”1 The war isn’t going well for the U.S. So the United States is lying about it. The sense of deja vu is overwhelming and deeply concerning.
The disjunct, the gap, between what the Trump Administration is telling us and what everyone else is saying is increasingly wide. This, of course, is what happened in Vietnam, where the disjunct between what the Johnson and Nixon Administrations were saying and what independent reporters and sources were reporting. In Vietnam we were told, for years, “We’re winning.” We weren’t.
The Taliban now holds more Afghan territory than at any time since the American invasion. Since 2017. The Afghan government says it killed 13,600 insurgents and arrested 2,000 more last year. That would be almost half the U.S. estimates of 25,000 to 35,000 Taliban fighters active in the country in 2017. But in January of 2018, United States officials revised its guesstimates and said insurgents numbered at least 60,000, and Afghan officials recently estimated the Taliban’s strength at more than 77,000. Counting bodies. Understating the number of enemy troops. Here we go again.
The New York Times has a devastating article on the disjunct, although the Times never actually uses the V-word.
Akhilesh Pillalamarri, writing in The Diplomat more than a year ago, noted that “despite spending more on Afghanistan than on rebuilding Europe after World War II, little progress has been made. It would not be surprising if the Taliban controlled all of Afghanistan within a decade.” That sounds pretty familiar, too.
The pacification effort is a failure. The “uplift” effort is a failure, too, as the Times documents.
The official U.S. strategy now isn’t to “win” the war in Afghanistan but rather to “bring the Taliban to the negotiating table.” Why would the Taliban do that? They’re winning. All they have to do is wait.
It was folly for the U.S. to remain in Afghanistan after the initial invasion. It remains folly for U.S. troops to be there. If the Taliban cuddles up to another extremist group, the U.S. has plenty of drones and bombs to offer discouragement. But more U.S. blood in this failed effort? No.
Seriously, we don’t need another Vietnam.