Re-escalation faces a grim reality. After more than 15 years of U.S. warfare and “nation-building,” Afghanistan’s oxymoronic National Unity Government is a case study in dysfunction. Contorted by the enormous illegal opium industry, the Afghan government ranks among the world’s most corrupt; 9th on the Fragile States Index that assesses states’ vulnerability to conflict or collapse. The World Justice Project’s 2016 Rule of Law Index ranked Afghanistan 111 out of 113 countries assessed. The poorly commanded and deeply infiltrated Afghan security forces are losing the war.
Despite more than $117 billion of U.S. development appropriations since 2002, Afghans remain near the bottom of virtually every column of the U.N.’s Human Development Index—infant mortality, life expectancy, caloric intake, per capita income, literacy, electricity usage, etc. Increasingly alienated Afghans know they are being victimized by “phantom aid,” wasted by pernicious greed in both donor and recipient countries. A USAID billboard in Kabul proclaiming women’s rights in English and Dari inadvertently illustrated the failure: After more than a decade of billions being spent on mismanaged aid programs, only about 10 percent of Afghan females could actually read the billboard.
An Afghan museum director told me, “I believe in our government, but not our leaders. They are mafia, all mafia. And I am sorry, sorry, but your government did that. Mafia.”
There is the human cost to again expanding the war in Afghanistan. Tens of thousands of Afghan combatants were casualties in 2016. Caught in the crossfires and bombings, Afghan civilians are dying in increasing numbers. The U.N. reported that in 2016 there were 12,000 war-related civilian casualties, including 923 children killed and 2,589 wounded. In 2016, 600,000 Afghans were displaced by the conflict, adding to the refugee crisis. Many Afghans blame the presence of foreign troops, strengthening popular support for the insurgents.