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CAN WE SUCCEED IN AFGHANISTAN?

In Afghanistan, we’re the Redcoats. And for a substantial portion of the country’s ethnic-Pashtun majority, the Taliban, however cruel and odious we find them, are the Minutemen.

The stock response you’ll get from any US general is that “the Afghans hate the Taliban.” If that is so, how is it that, after 16 years of US and NATO expenditure of blood and treasure, the ragtag Taliban, backed only by Pakistan, dominate or contest half the country?

Even our politically correct counterinsurgency doctrine — which has not achieved enduring success anywhere — acknowledges that insurgencies require the support of the population to succeed. Since 2001, the Taliban have faced as many as 140,000 US and NATO troops (the peak number in 2011). And no one supplied the Taliban with helicopters, artillery, armored vehicles and training, as we did for the Afghans.

Yet, the Taliban continue to defeat the Afghan National Army, on which we have lavished so much money and training. They could not do this without active support and passive tolerance from the population. Nor can we insist that the population only cooperates because they’re afraid.

Pashtun sons still join the Taliban, despite the heavy casualties we’ve inflicted.
One of our most-revered generals has told me repeatedly over the years that the Taliban are inept on the battlefield. Mimicking his Vietnam-era counterparts, he misses the point. No, Taliban fighters can’t compete one-on-one with US troops. Yet, they keep on fighting, against terrible odds, while the Afghan forces we back seek to avoid battle.

Isn’t it time to stop lying to ourselves?
Now President Trump must decide whether to send several thousand more US troops to Afghanistan to serve as trainers and facilitators (we currently have 8,400 troops in the country). Shouldn’t we ask ourselves how a total of 14,000 US troops (plus a few thousand allies) will achieve what 140,000 US and NATO troops could not?

Consider just a few of the problems we face:
* Our military leadership clearly doesn’t grasp the principle of “sunk costs,” that you can’t redeem a failed investment by investing more.

* While fighting the Taliban we continue to raise the prospect of bringing Taliban elements into a unity government. Is that what our troops died for over 16 bloody years? We’re failing, and we’re desperate.
* Then there’s the complaint that “If we leave, we’ll have to go back.” Well, going back and whacking terrorists every decade or so would have proven a lot cheaper than trying to turn Kabul into Denver. Strategic raids work — precisely what we initially did in Afghanistan in 2001. Nation-building in traditional cultures doesn’t work — what we tried from 2002 on.

* Knowing the risks, young Afghans volunteer to fight for the Taliban but are reluctant to serve in the Afghan National Army — where officers sell ammunition to the enemy and steal the money intended to feed their troops. Meanwhile, we defend a shamelessly corrupt elite whose thieving of billions we enabled out of expedience. Why would Afghans fight for a government that robs them?

* If Afghans won’t unite to save their own country, we cannot do it for them, no matter how many troops we send, how much we spend or how long we stay.

* Horrid though the Taliban are to us, we must accept that many Afghans just don’t want what we want them to want. We won’t accept that people choose to live in devotional squalor and torture their women, but they do.

Sending a few thousand more troops to Afghanistan sounds like small change, but it would tie down many more. That matters because Afghanistan is strategically worthless to us, even as we face a grave challenge from North Korea, an all-but-inevitable clash with the Revolutionary Guards holding Iran and the Middle East hostage, and a civilizational threat from Russia’s reinvigorated barbarism.

What should we do? A reasonable compromise would be to reduce US troop numbers in Afghanistan to those essential for targeting Islamic State in Khorasan (the local ISIS franchise) and al Qaeda. Use contractors to train Afghan forces. Continue to equip those forces — but under strict anti-corruption guidelines.

And if Afghans won’t fight for their own country, be ready to leave completely.
During our Revolution, the wealthy Tories of Manhattan supported the Crown because it served their interests. Today, corrupt Afghans in Kabul whom we have enriched support our presence and tell us everything we want to hear. But the ill-armed, shabby rebels are out there, determined to win.

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