Obviously Afghanistan has been the primary focal point in the War on Terror since September 11, 2001 when the United States was attacked and about 3,000 people were murdered. The US government identified Osama bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda organization based in and allied with the Taliban, the Islamic government in Afghanistan, as the perpetrators of the attacks. While political and military mistakes have been made in this 10 year conflict, we have been successful and destroying the violent Al-Qaeda and Taliban leadership and allowing a government friendly to its neighbors to hopefully evolve. This evolution will take time and be difficult, so our commitment should not waver, but our need for regular military forces in Afghanistan has ended. Continuing to watch and appropriately react to developments in Afghanistan will be an important political issue.

President Trump Should Send More Troops to Afghanistan

by Admiral James Stavridis,
from TIME Magazine,

As the Trump Administration wrestles with locations, numbers and missions for American combat deployments globally, one perennial has re-emerged near the top of the list: Afghanistan. Famously called the “Graveyard of Empires” ..., Afghanistan continues to vex US military planners and political figures leaders. After perhaps a $1 trillion investment and thousands of casualties, another “ask” for troops is particularly unwelcome. The question on the table is simple: how many troops do we need in Afghanistan? When I was the Supreme Allied Commander at NATO for global operations, I had strategic responsibility for the fighting in Afghanistan and a total NATO force of over 150,000. ... As we downsized our presence considerably around the time I left command in 2013, the number we all agreed as a sustaining force was roughly 20,000, still a decrease of nearly 90%. The idea was that with 20,000 troops, we could maintain four major regional headquarters around the country, a sizable “training mission,” reasonable special forces strike capability, and of course sufficient self-protection for all US personnel in country. That number remains roughly correct, but the overall force level for several years has not met the 20,000 goal — today we have fewer than 14,000. With an additional 3-5,000 requested by General Mick Nicholson — the current 4-star commander and a superb, experienced hand — we have a reasonable shot at stemming the increasing momentum of the Taliban and achieving a better outcome. The Administration and the Congress should support a 5,000-troop increase, apportioned equally between US and the rest of NATO forces, hopefully with significant contributions from the UK, France, Germany, Poland, Turkey, Norway and Denmark — nations who have considerable experience in Afghanistan. While far less likely, we should also approach Canada and the Netherlands. Indeed, all of the NATO nations have good reason to be very forthcoming to prove to President Trump that NATO is the relevant organization he finally admitted it was a month or so ago. All these commitments must be in place as the nations head into President Trump’s first NATO summit. The reasons for approving this increase are quite clear.

First, it is a tactical necessity. Over the past two years, the Taliban have been steadily encroaching on Afghan government control of territory.

Second, the emergence of an Islamic State element in Afghanistan is very concerning.

A third key reason is to create political capital that can be very helpful when some portion of the Taliban (who are not a holistic organization to say the least) eventually come to the negotiating table. We will never “win” militarily in Afghanistan, nor can we kill our way to success. Sooner or later we will need to bargain, and a stronger NATO force on the ground will give us better leverage. Fourth, the additional forces send a signal to the Pakistanis, who are still somewhat playing a “double game” of overtly cooperating with NATO, but in reality supporting some elements of the insurgency. This commitment will tell Pakistan we intend to continue to work for a successful outcome in Afghanistan, and will hopefully encourage them to force the Taliban into negotiations. Which brings us to another key point: what does success look like? Afghanistan is not going to resemble Singapore anytime soon; but it can have a functioning democratic government, general control over much of its borders, the ability to minimize impact from the insurgency, armed forces with high public approval, and a reduction in both corruption and narcotics — the latter two issues posing a longer term threat to the nation than even the Taliban.

The good news, such as it is in terms of this “Graveyard of Empires,” is that the United States and NATO are hardly empires. We have no desire to rule Afghanistan, control its not insignificant mineral wealth, defend its borders or guide its destiny. Our mission remains ensuring the nation is relatively stable and does not return to providing a protected shelter for terrorists threatening the United States. This small troop increase makes sense in that context and represents the right move by the Trump team.

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