The United States has been formally at war with (or within) Afghanistan since 2001, with little to no tangible progress to show for it. In that context, Mattis’ admission should hardly come as a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention.
However, while Mattis spoke the truth about the non-existent success of the war in Afghanistan, he followed up his statement with a dismal “[a]nd we will correct this as soon as possible.”
This proposed correction involves giving Mattis complete authority to determine troop levels in the war-torn country, something President Trump approved on Tuesday. It is believed that Mattis will be looking to send several thousand more American troops to Afghanistan, though the official number has not yet been confirmed.
In a video published by the Washington Post, Mattis was incredibly critical of restrictions imposed during the Obama era, which he believes caused the ongoing failures in Afghanistan.
“I retired from military service three months after sequestration took effect,” Mr. Mattis, a former Marine general, told the House Armed Services Committee. “Four years later, I returned to the department [of defense], and I have been shocked by what I’ve seen about our readiness to fight … No enemy in the field has done more to harm the readiness of our military than sequestration.”
But here’s what you aren’t being told: the U.S. has been increasing – and decreasing – troop levels by the thousands over the course of the conflict. Still, no victory has emerged despite almost 16 years of war under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
Barely even a month into his presidency, Obama approved a significant troop increase of at least 8,000 Marines, as well as 4,000 additional Army troops to Afghanistan (another 5,000 troops were to be deployed at a later date). By November of that year, Obama announced he was planned to send over 30,000 more troops to the war-stricken nation, highlighting a major escalation in the war and bringing the official number of U.S. troops to a whopping 100,000.
As confirmed by Politifact:
“Obama took office with about 34,000 troops. There are now 94,000 troops and closing in on 98,000 troops by summer.”
Although he originally indicated he would wind down the war, as early as 2009 it was reported that at one national security meeting, Obama told his advisors, “I want to take off the table that we’re leaving Afghanistan.” By 2014, he announced that the war was going to last additional two-and-a-half years.
A NATO night raid in February of 2010 conducted in a village in Paktia province, Afghanistan — and exposed by investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill — left seven civilians dead, including two pregnant women. As the story reached the media, NATO stated in response that the force entered the compound due to intelligence that confirmed the site was one of “militant activity.” As they were engaged in a firefight with several insurgents, the troops killed the insurgents and discovered that three women had been bound and gagged before being executed. However, a British reporter, Jerome Starkey, had already reported that this was a false narrative upon going to the area to interview witnesses following the incident.
The compound actually belonged to an anti-Taliban policeman trained by the United States. At the time, the family had gathered to celebrate the naming of a newborn son, and the gathering included a prosecutor and a university vice-chancellor – both of whom were related to the policeman.
In order to cover the tracks of their reckless decision to execute unarmed civilians, the American troops used knives to dig out the bullets from the bodies of the pregnant women killed.
“Months later, when I sat with the family elder, Hajji Sharabuddin, at his home, his anger seemed only to have hardened. ‘I don’t accept their apology. I would not trade my sons for the whole kingdom of the United States,’ he told me, holding up a picture of his sons. ‘Initially, we were thinking that Americans were the friends of Afghans, but now we think that Americans themselves are terrorists. Americans are our enemy. They bring terror and destruction. Americans not only destroyed my house, they destroyed my family. The Americans unleashed the Special Forces on us. These Special Forces, with the long beards, did cruel, criminal things.’
“‘We call them the American Taliban,’ added Mohammed Tahir, the father of Gulalai, one of the slain women.”
According to Scahill, night raids of this kind take place thousands of times a year in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other countries we are not even informed about.
The United States’ indiscriminate violence against its own allies on the ground — initiated by Bush and carried on recklessly under Obama — has been inherited by Trump. Barely a week ago, the U.S. killed three Afghan policemen in an air strike. The U.S. is killing its own allies on the ground, and it doesn’t take a military analyst to see that the U.S. is creating more and more enemies in the process.
It is, therefore, no surprise at all – from a logical standpoint – that Afghans who have been trained by the U.S. turn their American-supplied weapons on the American soldiers who prepared them for battle. The latest incident of this kind occurred around the same time as the aforementioned U.S. air strike, which murdered three policemen – but it is not a new or unforeseen issue. These incidents have occurred multiple times in the past.
Anyone who thinks that attempting this already tried and failed Afghanistan strategy over and over again will provide different results needs to prepare for what’s likely to come.
At this rate, the war will never end. If anything, it is just getting started, this time with a Trump-esque tinge of its own. According to Reuters, Mattis also said he will be taking a “regional approach” rather than looking at Afghanistan in isolation.
What could a “regional approach” possibly mean?
As a region, one of the countries bordering Afghanistan is Iran, a long-time adversary of the United States (meanwhile, on another front, the U.S. has reportedly just deployed a long-range rocket launcher to confront Iranian-backed militia in Syria). Someone as experienced as Mattis should know that the United States can never “win” a war in Afghanistan — for every bomb dropped, another “terrorist” pops up out of the rubble. For every anti-Taliban policeman killed, the U.S. loses more and more points with the local population, who cannot conceivably welcome such a terrorizing force.
However, the U.S. can and will continue to exert added pressure on its rival, the Islamic Republic of Iran, by surrounding the country with American troops. The U.S. will almost certainly keep its defense contractors and arms dealers in business by ramping up a war with Afghanistan that has been escalated countless times with not so much as a shred of success.
Mattis also has a similar strategy for fighting ISIS in Syria, yet ISIS fighters appear to be escaping the current conflict in Raqqa unscathed so they can confront Iranian and Syrian troops elsewhere in the country.
As the film adaption of George Orwell’s 1984 observed, “The war is not meant to be won – it is meant to be continuous.”