National Security: World War Afghanistan

Last month, the War in Afghanistan reemerged from its media slumber to become relevant in the news again – albeit briefly. The reason for this was the dropping of the MOAB, or “mother of all bombs “as it is popularly known on an ISIS compound. The bombing originated due to the death of a Green Beret while operating in the region. The dropping of the MOAB was a wakeup call: it signified the extent of ISIS’ expansion, but perhaps most importantly, reminded Americans that there’s a place called Afghanistan and there’s a war still being fought there.

The War in Afghanistan seldom makes headlines, at least compared to other conflicts plaguing the world (one doubts if the MOAB would ever make headlines had it been for its nickname.) Americans often seem more concerned with terror committed by ISIS in greater Mesopotamia, the slow and painful suicide of Syria, and the annexation of territory in Europe rather than their own war. Unfortunately, Afghanistan is beginning to head in the direction of America’s “forgotten wars.” The War in Afghanistan is the United States’ longest war, with the conflict now entering its third presidential administration. Estimates suggest that the US government has spent more on Afghanistan than it had rebuilding Europe during the Marshall Plan. 

The objective of toppling the Taliban government has been completed. Osama bin Laden has been executed. The main objective - the stabilization of the Afghan government, has proven to be a difficulty, and the Taliban have proven themselves to be a resilient enemy. 

After the fall of the Taliban government following the US invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11, the Taliban retreated into the rural and mountainous regions that dominate much of Afghanistan. After years of blood being split and money being spent by the United States, NATO allies, and the Afghan government, the Taliban has become but a shadow of its former power. 

However, the process of the American troop withdrawal gave the Taliban a new lease on life, with the terrorist group now regaining lost territory; it’s now on track to take even more. The Taliban has more leverage to commit acts of barbarism, such as the massacre of school children by its Pakistani branch, as well as a recent attack on an Afghan military base. The expansion of ISIS in the region poses a threat to the Taliban’s power; the latter remains significantly more powerful than ISIS in the region. Its main opponent, the Afghan government, is struggling in the fight. 

The Afghan government remains weak, corrupt, and unprepared to wander the Inferno without an Untied States serving as an it’s personal Virgil. The hard influence of the Afghan government often extends only to the city limits of Kabul. In the realm of conflict, it often seems more concerned with disputing and clashing with Pakistan over a British Imperial border than combating the terrorist group that controls parts of the country.

 The Afghan military is under constant threat, and the Forever War is unrelenting. A recent attack on an Afghan military base left more than 140 dead, and caused a political concussion that lead to the resignation of the Afghan Defense minister. However malicious the more conventional challenges the Afghan military faces, the external threats are only part of the problem; the greater danger now lies with the military itself.

The Taliban have executed a bloody campaign of infiltrating the Afghan military and attacking NATO and Afghan troops from within. Since 2007, more than 157 NATO personnel have died in such attacks. The numbers for Afghanistan are even more staggering, with more than 557 Afghan soldiers losing their lives to infiltrators.

With the perceived disregard towards the Middle East cultivated during the last presidential administration, Afghanistan is now begging to resemble the stage of geopolitics that fist brought the country notoriety, while Proxy battles are being fought between Iran and Saudi Arabia, Iran and the United States, Russia and the United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Pakistan and India. Non-state actors are often the primary source of proxy conflicts, with Iranian and Russian support of the Taliban being justified by the group’s opposition to ISIS. 

One should be weary over the superficial altruistic support that Iran and Russia are exerting in Afghanistan. While the motives of combating ISIS and drug cartels, as well as stabilizing the region to remove from its role as an incubator for jihadist movements, come across as genuine on paper, the two powers do so in the most malicious way possible.

Instead of supporting the Afghan government, Iran and Russia support a terrorist organization that gained notoriety for brutality akin to the barbarism now committed by ISIS. It is obvious that countering American interests is a motive of Iran and Russia in Afghanistan. Iran goes as far as to act as a safe-haven for Taliban leaders, with one Taliban leader meeting his demise via drone strike after an extended stay in Iran. 

With the advance of the Taliban on lost territory, the massive amount of money spent, the number of American lives lost, the retest of other NATO allies from the conflict, and the frustrations of the Afghan government, many in the United Sates are calling for an immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan. While there are multiple reasons to retreat from the fight, though many already lambasting over the war being “lost.” This view is ahistorical. 

It is an onset tactic for guerrilla groups to wait out an enemy and then attack after it has withdrawn from the area. Think of the Viet Cong after the American withdrawal from Vietnam in 1973, or the surge in militia activity after the main bulk of American forces withdrew during Operation Gothic Serpent (the intervention in Somalia – think of Black Hawk Down.) 

An American withdrawal would surely yield the same results. American retreat from Afghanistan would embolden the Taliban to campaign against the Afghan government even harder, as it already has. The power of Iran and Russia will be greatly increased in the region, and yet another stage for a power vacuum imputed conflict would be set. In a word, Afghanistan would once again be the region that will be associated with chaos.

To secure the initial American victory means to commit to the generations-long campaign of stabilization in the region, like in Germany, Japan, Italy, and Korea. To abandon it would lead to an Afghanistan that resembles the post-American Iraq.