National Security

History Says Afghanistan Is as Good as It's Going to Get

This week marks the 40th anniversary of the Communist Revolution in Afghanistan.

Todd Johnson · Apr. 25, 2018

This week marks the 40th anniversary of the Communist Revolution in Afghanistan, a series of incidents that most Americans have never heard of, let alone know anything about. Better known to scholars as the Saur Revolution, it led to the political overthrow of the Afghan government in 1978 and eventually led to the invasion by the Soviet Army in 1979.

This Soviet occupation was viewed by many Afghan men, and thousands of Muslim men around the world, as an assault against the Muslim way of life. It eventually led to the creation of a guerrilla-style resistance force focused solely on expelling the “infidels” out of the country. This mujahideen (meaning “those engaged in jihad”) force would eventually be supported by Ronald Reagan’s administration with money and resources, which led to the eventual withdrawal of the Soviet Army by 1989.

However, the removal of the Soviet forces and the U.S. foreign policy decision to take a hands-off approach to the region created a power vacuum in the war-torn state and many of the mujahideen fighters decided to continue their quest for power. A bloody civil war between a variety of forces took place, leading to the creation of the Taliban in 1994 and, eventually, to the events of 9/11.

This year marks the 17th of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and is officially our nation’s longest war. Unfortunately, Afghanistan is arguably as fractured as it has ever been and the Taliban continues to control vast swaths of territory. As we wrote last year, President Donald Trump and the Department of Defense needed to redefine the key objectives for Afghanistan. To date, nothing has substantially changed.

Earlier this year John Sopko, the special inspector general for the Afghan reconstruction, suggested the war is at a stalemate. The commanding general of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, has said that the ultimate objective is to bring stability to Afghanistan but concedes that there is no pure military solution for the problems that beset the country.

Which leads to a fundamental question. How long will the United States continue to expend blood and treasure in Afghanistan? As a former member of the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan staff, this author understands the dynamic and multi-faceted challenges facing any foreign government hoping to effect change in that part of the world. However, the fraud, waste and abuse that permeates the ranks of the Afghan military and government has shown that it’s time for the U.S. government to tell the American people that the situation is about as good as it’s going to get.

The Islamic republic of Afghanistan exists in name only and the Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks that comprise the bulk of the population identify with their ethnic group rather than a nationalist identity. This dynamic has been in the making for hundreds of years and if the efforts of Alexander the Great, the Mongols, the British, and the Soviets has shown the world anything, it’s that the people of Afghanistan will do anything to ensure the survival of their families and their tribe.

The 40th anniversary of the Saur Revolution is a vivid reminder to United States policymakers and military commanders that great powers who try to dictate events in Afghanistan only end up losing in the end. The culture of the corruption, graft, fraud, waste and abuse that permeates the country is something that will never go away. Rather than trying to foist unreasonable scenarios to the American people it’s time for the President Trump and his team to admit that the Afghanistan campaign is never to going be won in a military sense, no matter how much money is spent. It’s time to change the strategy — and anything less than a total overhaul is just a waste of more precious American resources.

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