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National Security

Why Afghanistan Still Matters

The definition of winning is staying in the fight and making whatever fitful progress we can.

Harold Hutchison · May 29, 2019

We are nearing the 18th anniversary of the unprovoked and dastardly terrorist attacks carried out by the radical Islamic terrorist group al-Qaida on the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania instead of DC. Almost 3,000 people died in that attack.

In about four and a half months from this article’s writing, children born that day will be adults. Some will even decide to serve in the military, potentially fighting in the Global War on Terror that started with their birth. They may end up in Afghanistan, if not as part of the current campaign, then potentially in the future.

It’s a fight still worth fighting after all these years. For one thing, the Taliban refused to hand over Osama bin Laden and fought to buy him time to make his escape and to his eventual hideout in Abbotabad, Pakistan. In essence, when George W. Bush laid out a choice, the Taliban decided they were with the terrorists. They haven’t given up on their alliance with al-Qaida or their support of radical Islam.

So, really, peace talks with the Taliban are a waste of time. The problem is, despite the moral clarity Bush laid out in 2001, he made the mistake of not building up the military enough to handle a global war on terror. We’re dealing with the consequences of that mistake today.

Now granted, turning Afghanistan into a functioning democracy was and is likely an impossible task. America really needed to find an Afghan version of Augusto Pinochet to help modernize the country, and then just focus on killing al-Qaida, Taliban, and other assorted radical Islamic terrorists. While we do that over the short and medium term, the goal should be to build Afghanistan’s capabilities up to the point that they can take over the job of ridding the earth of Taliban and al-Qaida scumbags.

If we capture any high-ranking terrorists, hold ‘em at Gitmo after they have given us whatever information we need, with enhanced interrogation techniques as an option if they won’t talk. Using those techniques and maintaining “black sites” in various parts of the world prevented attacks, and the smearing of those who were part of that program is truly deplorable. If anything, highly restrictive rules of engagement that have led to some obvious injustices to American troops should be relaxed.

Harsh? Unpleasant? Maybe, but Afghanistan, like elsewhere in the Middle East, doesn’t have a lot of nice neat options. Allowing the Taliban to regain power in Afghanistan would be a huge disaster for the United States on geopolitical grounds alone. America cannot maintain its leadership in the world if the perpetrators of 9/11 are seen to get away with it. At the very least, Taliban and al-Qaida leaders should be looking over their shoulders for the rest of their lives, wondering if today is the day a Navy SEAL or MQ-9 Reaper takes them out.

The fact of the matter is that to win in Afghanistan while still addressing the resurgent threats from Russia and China and containing Iran requires a larger military across the board. In this case, the definition of winning is staying in the fight and making whatever fitful progress we can.

To do that requires a lot, though: The Army needs more deployable combat units. The Navy needs more hulls in the water. The Marines need to restore capabilities that atrophied since the end of the Cold War. The Air Force needs more combat squadrons. Even the Coast Guard needs more.

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