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My Turn 8-27
Afghanistan, again and again?
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As President Trump announced his Afghanistan strategy last week, I couldn't help thinking about how long the war there has lasted, and what it has already cost our nation in blood and treasure.
The war in Afghanistan began on Oct. 7, 2001. That’s nearly 16 years ago. It followed the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City and the attacks on the Pentagon. President Obama declared an end to U.S. combat in Afghanistan in December 2014, but it remains America’s longest-running war, with no light at the end of the tunnel.
As of May 2017, the U.S. still had roughly “8,300 troops” in Afghanistan, with the stated mission of “training and advising the country’s security forces.” Meanwhile, NATO and other allies still had some 6,600 troops there.
American and allied troop levels peaked at 100,000 in 2011, but declined rapidly as President Obama announced -- to friend and foe alike -- his timetable for withdrawing U.S. combat forces from Afghanistan. That unfortunate gaffe gave the enemy the tactical and strategic advantage of biding their time, even as they inflicted further casualties on our troops.
Some 2,350 American troops have been killed in the war, and another 20,000 have been wounded. Overall, about 3,500 U.S. and allied forces have been killed in the war, so far. In addition to the human casualty tolls, the war has reportedly cost more than $1 trillion, with billions more likely to come.
President Trump vowed that his war strategy is designed, in part, to “kill terrorists” in and around Afghanistan, not to revert to a quagmire of “nation building.” If he can make that happen, I’m all for it. But to do so, he needs to focus his attention and resources on that strategy.
Moreover, President Trump needs to rein in the Defense Department on its fool’s errands of lavishing hundreds of millions of dollars on contractors and foreign mercenaries. Too many of them have already squandered our hard-earned tax dollars on boondoggles and other dubious expenditures, while lining their own pockets profusely along the way.
For now, I’ll leave debating the pros and cons of President Trump’s new Afghanistan strategy to others. But, let’s have no more naive notions of American funded nation-building and planting democracy in a culture that has long proven to be ill-suited for either.
It’s high time for America to eschew nation-building in our image in other foreign lands. That, too, is a fool’s errand. Instead, we need to focus on nation-building here at home, especially on our country’s crumbling infrastructure.
As for U.S. strategy on Afghanistan, Iraq and other foreign policy issues, we would be wise to act in our own national interests, first and foremost, just like most other nations do.
Retired Army Col. Thomas B. Vaughn can be reached at