The initial goal of invading Afghanistan in the immediate weeks after 9/11 could not have been more clear: Get Osama bin Laden and oust the Taliban regime that gave his fanatical pack of beards safe haven to plan and practice the deadly attacks.
It was the first and so far only time NATO allies invoked the Article 5 mutual defense pact. That familiar mission creep, however, seeped in and with the best of naive intentions, the foreigners stuck around to attempt nation-building to protect the power vacuum they created.
It’s had some good days (a new Constitution now gives equal rights to men and women and millions of young girls are now in school). And it’s had many bloody days.
Now 6,533 days later, the Taliban is back. Al Qaeda too and ISIS cells are blowing up weddings to create fear. A massive multi-year drought has swept the land, drastically curbing food supplies.
And polls in both Afghanistan and the U.S. are questioning the outcome and entire value of the effort that’s cost the US alone $2.4 trillion.
Gallup is just out with a new survey that found no Afghans said they were living comfortably. Ninety percent say it is difficult or very difficult to get by on household income, worst of any country surveyed. Over half the country is living below the poverty level.
The Trump administration has been negotiating a peace agreement with the Taliban to engineer a pullout of most of the remaining 13,000 troops or at least a cover story for the pullout.
After the sharia brutality of the Taliban’s 1990s rule, many doubt their word, even if its fervent believers could also control al Qaeda and ISIS. Yet to come are negotiations between the Taliban and central government. Regional warlords are reported preparing for a likely civil war.
Oh, and national elections are set for Sept. 28.
Trump has talked for four years about reducing foreign military entanglements and appears closing on an Afghan decision that has taken the lives of 2,435 Americans, 1,143 allies and untold thousands of Afghans.
And Americans seem to agree about a withdrawal. A recent Pew Research Center poll found six-in-ten veterans and Americans feel the nation’s longest war was “not worth fighting.”
Reality is, no army in history has successfully controlled all of Afghanistan — not Alexander the Great, not Genghis Khan, not the British, not the Russians, not the Americans.
The 2011 military intervention in Libya of Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama successfully ousted and killed Moammar Gaddafi. But it also created an oil-rich failed state now home to roaming bands of terrorist militias pillaging and training for infiltration adventures in Africa.
The Afghan question now becomes, how does the United States extricate itself from a hopeless ground war without recreating another lawless territory where a new generation of plotters can plan and practice future assaults on the homeland?