On Afghanistan, There’s No Way Out

When it comes to Afghanistan, we’ve tried everything. The lesson is: Nothing works.

.. We’ve tried “light footprint.”

.. We’ve tried big footprint.

.. We’ve tried nation building.

.. the United States had spent $104 billion on Afghan relief and reconstruction funds, most of it for security but also nearly $30 billion for “governance and development” and $7.5 billion on counternarcotics.

.. Result: As of 2015, more than three in five Afghans remained illiterate. Afghan security forces lost 4,000 members a month

.. The country ranks 169th out of 176 countries on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, ahead of only Somalia, South Sudan, North Korea, Syria, Yemen, Sudan and Libya. Opium

.. We’ve tried killing terrorists. Lots and lots of them. As many as 42,000 Taliban and other insurgents have been killed and another 19,000 wounded

.. Result: The Taliban’s numbers in 2005 were estimated at anywhere between 2,000 and 10,000 fighters. Within a decade, those numbers had grown to an estimated 60,000 fighters.

.. We’ve tried carrots and sticks with Pakistan. In 2011, Washington gave $3.5 billion in aid to Islamabad.

.. American leverage with Pakistan has declined as Chinese investment in the country has surged, reaching $62 billion this year.

.. The group’s insistence that all foreign troops withdraw before it enters talks gives away its game, which isn’t to share power with the elected government, but to seize power from it.
.. What about two supposedly “untried” options: another surge, exceeding what Obama did in troop numbers but not limited by deadlines or restrictive rules of engagement; or, alternatively, a complete withdrawal of our troops?

But that’s been tried, too. Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s practiced a “bomb-the-stuff-out-of-them” approach to warfare, likely including the use of chemical weapons.

.. Between 1990 and 2000, tens of thousands of Afghans — as many as a million people, according to one estimate — died in three waves of civil war.

.. President Trump may think he’s trying something new with his Afghan policy. He isn’t. Obama killed a lot of terrorists. George W. Bush pursued what amounted to a “conditions-based” approach, without target dates for withdrawal. Both were often stern with Pakistan. Both conducted intensive policy reviews.

.. Even if we could kill every insurgent tomorrow, they would return, as long as they can draw on the religious fanaticism of the madrasas, the ethnic ambitions of the Pashtun, and the profits of the heroin trade.