The publishing of the Afghanistan Papers, a trove of documents documenting the Afghan war, by Washington Post is the latest piece in an intricate puzzle of attempting to understand a decade-long and seemingly unending cycle of violence, predicament, and destruction. The documents were publicized after a strenuous legal battle over the period of three years, and they have ignited public fury in the United States and initiated new discussion about the unwinnable Afghan War. The documents, containing 400 interviews with senior military and government officials, have elucidated that successive US governments misled the public about the ground situation and overall gloomy prospects for the war in Afghanistan— a conflict that has cost more than $1 trillion, 2400 American lives, and the extermination of tens of thousands of Afghan civilians and troops, with no certain end in sight.
From the first day of the American military invasion of Afghanistan, US generals and the top echelon of the Bush administration knew that even disengagement, let alone a clear military victory, from this region would be difficult if not impossible. The war, first initiated as a result of a quick reaction to terrorist incidents in the United States, has now taken nearly two decades to reach its conclusion. Even the top US military strategists and policymakers misapprehended the strategic culture of Afghans, the uniqueness of their country’s geography, its uneasy history of foreign interventions, the complexity of its heterogeneous ethnic composition, and the fact that entering Afghanistan is easy but exiting is extremely tricky.
Recent years have not only witnessed an alarming decline in public support for the Afghan War, believed to be an unnecessary entanglement in a foreign theatre, but also a swift rise in suspicions about the ambiguous US objectives in Afghanistan and the US war effort against terrorism. The massive support of the Afghan populace for a peace process, which will likely bring a considerable dwindling of the US military footprint if not a total exit of US troops, suggest that they too are weary of foreign intervention. This skepticism on the part of the Afghan public is further substantiated by the rising toll of civilian casualties resulting from airstrikes.
Following the death of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad and the comprehensive obliteration of Al Qaeda networks from Afghanistan, along with the transition of security to the Afghan National and Defense Forces, persistent questions have been floating in Afghan politics and regional media with no heed of US officials: Why is the US still present in Afghanistan if it can’t defeat Taliban? What are the common objectives of the US and its host Afghanistan? Why is the US unwilling to accept defeat in what is now indisputably an unwinnable war? Why lie about perpetual failed strategies and ignore the Afghan civilian casualties? Why are US military generals so obsessed with a military solution to the Afghan quagmire?
Despite the fact that Pentagon has renounced allegations of misleading Congress and the American public about the Afghan war, their actions not only reflect the accurateness of revealed documents but also become even more interesting when viewed in the context of the nonsensical tweets of President Trump, which talk of killing 10 million Afghans to “win the war in a week.” The Papers serve to authenticate the helplessness and desperation of Trump and his military generals.
The publication of papers took place at a time when President Trump’s special envoy for the peace process with the Taliban, Zalmay Khalilzad, is closer than ever to inking an agreement—probably around Christmas—to detail the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. If Khalilzad champions a US-favored peace deal and President Trump succeeds in bringing US troops home by Christmas, this extraordinary feat, one that his predecessors clearly failed to achieve, will attribute enormous popularity to a president who is battling impeachment. It might even secure a re-election for office for the besieged Donald Trump. What the Americans need is the courage to accept failure and go on. Denial and stubbornness helps neither the United States nor Afghanistan; rather, it has further complicated the situation.
There is no sense in keeping the public in delusion and factitious hope. The escalation of an unwinnable war has resulted in further destruction of Afghanistan and the loss of American lives. There is no shame in accepting defeat; rather, there is a certain bravery in it. Ultimately, The American generals will have to submit to the fact, like the Brits and Soviets who came before them, that the Afghan geography simply cannot be conquered.
This article was written on December 6, 2019.
The views expressed in this article belongs to the author alone and does not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the author is associated.