Steve's Blog

Unleashing “Fire and Fury” on North Korea, and Is Afghanistan Lost?

Since I wrote this week’s blog on Monday concerning Afghanistan, North Korea has once again reared its ugly head. Therefore, so I don’t seem completely out of synch with the news cycle, you may want to re-read (or perhaps read for the first time) my blog from three weeks ago concerning North Korea. Here’s a link for your convenience.

Okay, now back to Afghanistan. For years, Democrats bashed Republicans for authorizing President George W. Bush to take military action against Iraq (even though many Democrats themselves had voted for it, like Hillary Clinton and John Kerry.) Remember “Bush lied, people died”? Iraq was the “bad” war; the one we never should have gotten into in the first place.

Afghanistan was the “good” war. The one every Member of the House of Representatives for example voted for, except one lone California Democrat, Congresswoman Barbara Lee. Why was there so much support for military action against Afghanistan? Because unlike Iraq, the September 11th attack on America was carried out by al-Qaeda, which was being harbored and supported by the then-government of Afghanistan, the Taliban.

The U.S. military and our allies, both in and out of Afghanistan, successfully toppled the Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies. But that was 16 years ago. How are things going now? Unfortunately, not well.

And not surprisingly, in my view, it goes back to the policies of Barack Obama. He initially SAID the right things – how important prevailing in Afghanistan was. He recognized that the number of troops there was insufficient to win. So he took a page from the Bush policy in Iraq, and decided to do a surge (send in more troops.) But he cut in half the number his military advisors recommended; then cut it some more. Then he announced in advance that he’d start pulling those troops out on a date certain, with virtually no time to make any progress, much less win the war. This energized the Taliban and discouraged our Afghan allies, and our own troops. And he handcuffed our war fighters with overly restrictive and unrealistic rules of engagement. It was a recipe for failure, and that’s just what happened. At best, we were treading water under President Obama’s eight years as Commander in Chief. At worst, the Taliban was winning, and gaining back parts of the country they had previously lost, particularly in rural areas.

So what should President Trump do? Should we just pull out? Cut our losses?

In my view, we need a new strategy. One that actually results in the U.S. prevailing in Afghanistan. I would task my most trusted military advisers with developing a plan of action, and determining what level of troops are necessary to carry out that plan. And I’d let them have the authority and flexibility to do whatever is necessary to defeat the Taliban.

I would work closely with the Afghan National Unity Government, specifically with their co-leaders, President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah. I would also work closely with the NATO allies already aligned with us in Afghanistan.

I would also use every available bit of leverage we have, to get Pakistan to back off their support for the Taliban. We give Pakistan nearly $2 billion every year in economic and military aid. Despite this aid, Osama bin Laden was hiding a stone’s throw from one of Pakistan’s major military facilities, and rather than reward Pakistan doctor Shakil Afridi for assisting the U.S. in locating and terminating Osama bin Laden, they imprisoned this hero. Pakistan must stop playing a double game, or risk losing our support.

I would also make much more of an effort to train the Afghan National Army, the Afghan Special Forces, and the Afghan National Security Forces to be capable of doing the bulk of the fighting, rather than be so reliant on U.S. forces. Their Air Force is particularly feeble, and needs light attack planes and helicopters. The reality is, our air forces, which continue to be the best in the world, will have to do the heavy lifting, but we must prepare the Afghans to be able to take over once we start winding down.

And I would be ready to use just-short-of our nuclear weaponry when it’s necessary and warranted. For example, three months after President Trump was inaugurated, a MOAB (Massive Ordnance Air Blast) device, also known as the “mother of all bombs”, was used in Afghanistan against an ISIS tunnel complex, reportedly with great effect. If we need to use more, do it.

The bottom line is, Afghanistan hasn’t been called “the graveyard of empires” for nothing. Alexander the Great, the British, and the Russians struggled their greatly, and it is extraordinarily hard to prevail in a military engagement in Afghanistan. However, as we learned on September 11th, when a country becomes a safe haven for terrorists, even if it is on the far side of the globe, it can threaten us on our own soil. For our own safety, we MUST prevail in Afghanistan.

Too many Americans have already given their lives in Afghanistan, nearly 4,000 U.S. military personnel and civilian contractors, to give up now. Developing the right strategy, and then giving our war fighters everything they need to be successful, is the way to go in my opinion.

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