The Afghan Endgame Emerges and it is Not Going to Work

There is one point that I have hammered home on blogs and podcast interviews concerning Afghanistan and that is the next round of funding is a game changer. I thought we would be seeing some serious budget slashing in 2020 but it has already started.  Over the weekend the State Department cut 100 million dollars designated for Afghanistan energy infrastructure projects . They are also withholding another 60 million in payments to the Afghanistan’s National Procurement Authority.

The aid is being withheld because of the endemic corruption found in Afghanistan (and every other country in the region). The sums involved look massive but they aren’t, keeping Afghanistan’s  military and government solvent has a price tag of billions annually.  Cutting of programed funds is long overdue, but I am guessing this is a test run to see what happens when the real funding crisis strikes next year.

My concern is that once the Afghan people understand we are doing the old cut and run they may “complicate” our continued presence in the country.

Adding fuel to the fire is yet another ridiculous massacre of Afghan civilians by our armed forces.  A drone strike in Nangarhar province killed 30 workers who were gathering pine nuts. This is not the first time we have slaughtered pine nut gatherers. For 18 years we have been bombing Afghans who were going about their day because people watching drone feeds thought they were up to nefarious activities. We seem to be incapable of learning.

Just yesterday 3 American soldiers were wounded in a insider attack on their convoy by a member of Afghan Civil Order Police. This attack, were I to guess, has something to do with the loss of General Abdul Raziq last year. The Afghans know that the only reason Raziq was in that vulnerable situation was because General Miller invited him to the Kandahar Governors compound.

The guy who perpetrated this assault may well have been a Taliban plant, just like the one who nailed Raziq. Or he could be pissed about the death of Raziq and took it out on those he thought responsible. Who knows? But the timing of this attack is ominous to those like myself (and maybe it is just me) who are worried about pulling the cut and run while thousands of troops and  tens of thousands of internationals are resident in country.

The Afghan people are not stupid. When the news of 160 million dollar cut broke my Afghan friends in Kabul took to facebook to lament an act they knew was a long time coming.  Here are some of their comments from my Facebook page:

Can’t really blame the US for doing this..

That peace deal is coming the conditions are gearing up for anti-USA climate, when the money stops then why are you in Afghanistan? You gotta pay to play otherwise the Afghans are switching their attitudes. Try governing Afghans who haven’t been paid.

But it’s so right! There is no transparency in AFG gov procurement and especially large projects. Nobody can audit NPA, u can’t complain against them and they can award projects to people of their choice.

It’s about time! Bad news for some people.

This is the tragedy; there are plenty of Afghans who want our help, who respect and actually are inspired by the the idea of America, and who, if the Taliban return to total control (which I do not think possible) are in serious trouble.

Afghanistan is a mess but the only way for us to extract ourselves from that mess is slowly. The imperative now for NATO and the Afghanistan Security Forces is to not cede the initiative to the Taliban.  The Taliban continue to attack, they are not going to stop applying pressure because it  is working well for them.

We need to keep hammering away at them too, but when we do that we kill pine nut workers, or smoke check wedding parties. The reason behind that is lack of human intelligence , lack of local atmospherics, and (I hate to say this) lack of American boots on the ground.

I do not see how we are going to square the Afghan circle but know contractors are one option that has potential because contractors can loiter in country longer than military and they can return to the same unit over and over to build cohesion and competence. There are thousands of American combat vets (and contractors)  who would willingly return and stay to see the fight through. I’m one of them.

Like General Mattis I believe we should have bagged bin Laden in 2001 and left the country to its own devices. We didn’t, and for those of us who went to Afghanistan and stayed a bit; there is an obligation to the Afghan we assumed when we decided to stay. I love Afghans (most of them) and I love the country too but (I’ll say it again) – this is not going to end well.

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