There Is No Reason for U.S. Troops To Be in Afghanistan Another Day

Military analysis.
Sept. 21 2012 4:44 PM

Diminishing Returns

Our efforts in Afghanistan were probably doomed from the start. But now it’s over.

(Continued from Page 1)

And—here’s the big deal—America’s main mission in Afghanistan now is to train the local army and police, so they can carry on the fight by themselves after the Western troops leave (which, under an agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, happens in 2014). If we’re not going to be training them (again, for good reasons), there’s not much reason for U.S. troops to stay there another day, much less another two years.

The second bit of news, reported in Friday’s Wall Street Journal, is that Karzai has fired or reassigned 10 of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial governors. Several of them have created fairly effective local governing councils—which is why Karzai fired them: He sees, and always has seen, the rise of local power bases as a threat to his own central authority. In the past, he has replaced such officials with his cronies, who tend to spread corruption, alienating the people and, in many cases, building support for the insurgents.

This pattern helps explain why the war has been all but doomed from the get-go. There was logic behind the counterinsurgency strategy that Obama attempted for 18 months. An insurgency war is, in part, a contest for the loyalty of the people; providing the people with basic services, and thus enhancing the government’s legitimacy, is one way to earn their loyalty. But as many U.S. military leaders, including Gen. David Petraeus, emphasized from the beginning, Karzai would have to clean up his corruption, reform his regime, make it more responsive to his people’s needs, if the strategy were to work. The problem all along is that Karzai has been unwilling to reform—unwilling to clear his swamp of the maladies that the Taliban and other insurgents have been exploiting in their rebellion.

Advertisement

That’s what Obama realized when he decided to pull out all the “surge” forces and retreat to more achievable aims: No matter how many more troops he might send, no matter how long he decided to keep them there, the war was sunk as long as Karzai didn’t change his ways—and there was no sign he was going to change.

The possible demise of the training program threatens to shut down the whole effort. I say “possible” demise because the edict could be reversed, the training could resume, if some way can be found to beef up security. The problem is that most of the green-on-blue killings have not been the work of the Taliban. Spokesmen for the coalition say that insurgent infiltrators have been responsible for only one-quarter—maybe as few as one-tenth—of the killings. Most of the rest have been due to “cultural differences”—young Afghan men, mainly from small villages, unaccustomed to military discipline or offended by what they regard as insensitive behavior on the part of their coalition trainers.

The American military has never been very good at what used to be called “colonial” functions. Its troops don’t speak the language and know only a little about the culture. The same is true, multiplied several-fold, by the Afghans, who feel the additional strain of taking orders from people regarded, even by many anti-Taliban Afghans, as “infidel occupiers.”

It was a bad bet from the beginning. It’s only worsened over time. An exit strategy and timetable were put in place. But now it’s time to speed up the departure.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Even When They Go to College, the Poor Sometimes Stay Poor

Here’s Just How Far a Southern Woman May Have to Drive to Get an Abortion

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Marvel’s Civil War Is a Far-Right Paranoid Fantasy

It’s also a mess. Can the movies do better?

Behold

Sprawl, Decadence, and Environmental Ruin in Nevada

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Watching Netflix in Bed. Hanging Bananas. Is There Anything These Hooks Can’t Solve?

The Procedural Rule That Could Prevent Gay Marriage From Reaching SCOTUS Again

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 20 2014 6:24 PM The GOP Can’t Quit “Willie Horton” Even though they promise to do so, again and again.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 20 2014 5:39 PM Whole Foods Desperately Wants Customers to Feel Warm and Fuzzy Again
  Life
Outward
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 5:03 PM Marcel the Shell Is Back and as Endearing as Ever
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 20 2014 4:59 PM Canadian Town Cancels Outdoor Halloween Because Polar Bears
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.