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Monday, March 25, 2019

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

On August 21, President Donald Trump announced that he plans to send more thousands of U.S. troops to Afghanistan to extend the American war that began in 2001. The speech Trump gave has no details, only a tweetable line: “We are not nation-building again. We are killing terrorists.”

Three days later, Trump’s senior general in Afghanistan, John Nicholson, said that the United States military would crush ISIS in Afghanistan. The Taliban, General Nicholson said, should come to the negotiation table, while the U.S. would expand its attack on ISIS and al-Qaeda. It is therefore reasonable to assume that when Trump said he wants the U.S. military to kill terrorists, he meant ISIS and al-Qaeda, not the Taliban.

The U.S. currently has as many as 12,000 troops in Afghanistan, most of whom provide various kinds of support to the Afghan National Army. The Afghan Army suffers from poor morale as a consequence of erratic pay, poor logistics and an unclear mandate. Its war against the Taliban has been fruitless, as the Taliban’s legions have control now over about half of Afghanistan’s districts. The Taliban is so confident of its strength that in May it released a report showing that it fully controls 34 districts and 16 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.

In late July, the Taliban pushed the Afghan National Army out of Faryab, Ghor and Paktia. These areas are in Afghanistan’s northwest, center and southeast, proving that the Taliban is able to dominate areas far outside what had been assumed to be its base in the southern half of the country. A few days ago, Taliban fighters seized Sari Pul province’s Sayad district and more of Faryab province. The Afghan National Army will soon be the Kabul Army if this rate of expansion by the Taliban continues.


Rumors that the Taliban has collaborated with ISIS in some parts of the country have been denied by Taliban commanders. They would like to maintain some distance between themselves and ISIS, which has now become a central target for the U.S. forces.

Weakly positioned in Afghanistan, ISIS is restricted largely to Nangarhar province, where the U.S. had previously dropped the “Mother of All Bombs.” A key report from the United Nations on August 7 showed that ISIS in Afghanistan is not a viable threat. “Despite its recruitment efforts over the past three years,” the U.N. Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team noted, “the group has not yet established a viable fighting force there.”

Money for ISIS in Afghanistan, the U.N. team notes, comes from Iraq and Syria. “Sometimes the financial flows are robust and other times they run dry.” It is this money from Iraq and Syria that pushes ISIS to conduct such operations as the suicide attack on the Iraqi Embassy in Kabul in late July. ISIS in Afghanistan is less a threat to the United State or to Afghanistan itself than it is being used by its Iraqi and Syrian branch to put pressure on their adversaries (such as the Iraqi government) in Afghanistan.

It is now well-known that the Taliban has been able to absorb the best of al-Qaeda’s fighting force from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region. “Many al-Qaeda-affiliated fighters from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area,” the U.N. report notes, “have integrated into the Taliban, leading to a marked increase in the military capabilities of the movement.” There are now estimated to be 7,000 al-Qaeda fighters, most of them from outside Afghanistan, in the Taliban ranks.

Al-Qaeda has been under pressure from the Pakistani military in the borderlands, which is why its fighters have moved into southern Afghanistan and to the Idlib province in Syria—both seen by the al-Qaeda leadership as key places for its expansion. Two important al-Qaeda leaders who came from Egypt to Afghanistan—Abu al-Khayr al-Masri and Rifai Ahmed Taha—died in Idlib (Syria) in February and April. They had been sent by al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri to strengthen the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria. Al-Qaeda leaders Qari Yasin was killed in Paktia (Afghanistan), where he had been sent by al-Zawahiri to unite the al-Qaeda and Taliban forces.


The upsurge of the Taliban has nothing to do with the presence of ISIS in Afghanistan. It does, however, have a great deal to do with the entry of al-Qaeda fighters of various stripes from Pakistan into its ranks. But even al-Qaeda is not central to the Taliban’s surge.

That surge can only be explained by the slow desiccation of the Afghan government in Kabul. Despite billions of dollars of aid, Afghanistan has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world (31%) and half of Afghanistan’s children are stunted with a third of the population suffering from food insecurity.

The collapse of humane aspirations for the Afghan people certainly fuels the insurgency and the violence, making it harder to build state and social institutions to tackle these key problems, which once more fuels the war. This cycle of chaos could only be ended if regional powers agreed to freeze their interventions in Afghanistan and if the Afghan state would be able to robustly build up the infrastructure to feed and educate its citizens.

Trump’s comment that he is against “nation-building” shows how little he understands war, for the only antidote to this endless American war in Afghanistan is for the people to reconcile around a believable mandate for human development rather than violence and corruption. No such agenda is on the table.


Late in July, before Trump made his recent announcement, one of Afghanistan’s most hardened leaders, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, held a press conference in his home in Kabul. Hekmatyar, who was a key CIA and Pakistani ally in the 1970s and ’80s, said that ‘neither the Afghan government nor foreign troops can win the war. This war has no winner.’ This is remarkable coming from Hekmatyar, who was known as the “Butcher of Kabul” for his role in the siege of that city after the Soviet troops left Afghanistan (more Afghans died in that civil war than in the mujahideen’s war against the communist government and their Soviet ally). He has called for negotiations between the Kabul government and the Taliban.

U.S. General Nicholson painted the Taliban as “a criminal organization, more interested in profits from drugs, kidnapping, murder for hire,” but nonetheless called upon them to join a peace process. It is clear that whatever the U.S. thinks of the Taliban, they have positioned themselves to be a major political force in Afghanistan in the near future. This is why Nicholson and Trump have begun to distinguish between the Taliban (which should be in a peace process) and ISIS/al-Qaeda (which have to be destroyed). That al-Qaeda is now a key ally of the Taliban should sully this simplistic thinking. But it has not.

Negotiations seem far off in Afghanistan. The Taliban is well positioned to increase its bargaining power as its legions expand across the country. Surrendered Taliban leader Zangal Pacha (Amir Khan) recently left the fight in Nangarhar province with six fighters. He said that a foreign intelligence service—most likely that of Pakistan—has been egging the Taliban onwards to take more territory. Attacks on tribal elders and public welfare projects are being urged, largely to squeeze Kabul’s hold on the provinces and to strengthen the Taliban’s claim to being the natural rulers of Afghanistan. Pakistan has long wanted a friendly government in Kabul and it has seen the Taliban as its instrument. Whether the U.S. will once more turn a blind eye to al-Qaeda’s role in the Taliban is to be seen. History does repeat itself, particularly when it comes to geopolitical hypocrisy.

Meanwhile, violence continues to rattle Kabul. On August 24, a magnetic bomb in a land cruiser exploded in Sarai Shamail, wounding one person. Other stories interrupt this constant theme of Afghanistan and war. In Paktia’s Mirzakai district, tribal leaders have for years signed agreements to prevent the Taliban from entering their area. On the same day as the bomb blast, the leaders pledged to fine those who collaborate with the Taliban one million Afghanis ($15,000) and to ‘oust them from the district,’ said Khan Mangal.

Trump needs to attend to the tribal leaders of Mirzakai —people such as Khan Mangal, Haji Halim and Enzir Gul as well as women leaders such as Halima Ehsas, Halima Khazan, Dr. Nazdana Paktiawal and Feroza. But he does not know that they exist. For Trump, Afghanistan is not a place. It is merely a battlefield for an endless American war.

Vijay Prashad is professor of international studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. He is the author of 18 books, including Arab Spring, Libyan Winter (AK Press, 2012), The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South (Verso, 2013) and The Death of a Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution (University of California Press, 2016). His columns appear at AlterNet every Wednesday.

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17 responses to “Trump’s New Strategy For Afghanistan Is The Disaster You’d Expect It To Be”

  1. FireBaron says:

    The fiasco known as the Afghan War was the result of mismanagement by Donald Rumsfeld. According to our field commanders we were within a week of capturing both OBL and Mullah Omar, effectively ending the war. So, what happened? Rumsfeld ordered the troops to pull back. Why? Because he has no idea how to actually manage ground troops.
    In Rumsfeld’s ideal military, there are Drone airplanes, Submarines, Surface Ships, Tanks and Artillery pieces, all being operated from Cheyanne Mountain, Norfolk, or other locations. No actual human beings needed, thank you very much. How, you may ask, did someone serving as Secretary of Defense have no concept about the military? Well, when he was of a draft age, he was “too busy” to serve, thus he garnered seven draft deferments until he was too old for the draft. Same with his running mate in most of his White House jobs – Cheney had five deferments.
    Now, consider this – every President they served in the administration of (Ford, Reagan, Bush Senior, Bush Junior) all had military service records. Yeah, Reagan made training films for the Army in WW2 and Bush Fils had his ANG stint, but still they wore the uniform. But not the Dynamic Duo. They were “too busy”.
    So, as a result, Rumsfeld and Cheney did not listen when they were told they had OBL and Omar cornered and were within days of capturing them. Nope. Not important. Waitaminit! Capturing the guy who led the group that ran the 9/11 attacks, and the guy who had been sheltering him “not important”? I guess they were out of the room when the President went before the country and asked permission to get these guys!
    So we saw troop withdrawals and surges since 2003 that got absolutely bupkes done. Take a hill or village, plant the flag, withdraw and let the bad guys move back in. Pick a tribal leader who won’t shoot us when our back is turned, give him enough weapons to set himself up, then he turns on us.
    Frankly, once we went in there and destabilized the Taliban, we removed a major source of pressure off the Ayatollahs in Qum. Once we went into Iraq and removed another source of pressure on them, they were home free! So, not only have we mucked up two countries, we have let a third get more powerful than either we or Putin would like!
    Now, we will have more of the same losing formula. More troops will come home broken mentally, physically or both, if they come home at all. Contractors (i.e. mercenaries) will come in and get richer from the safety of behind whatever front is established.
    God save us from this egomaniac who will probably try to micromanage the Pentagon and Central Command on this one!

    • dpaano says:

      And, much of the opiate problem that we have in the U.S. is because returning servicemen were introduced to it while in Afghanistan. I have several friends that said it was easily obtained and easily sold to soldiers to overcome their stress of being there in the first place. So, when they came home, they brought back their addiction and the country did nothing about it and continues to do nothing about it!

  2. yabbed says:

    It is Trump’s war now Watch him fail bigly.

    • stcroixcarp says:

      Trump and Eric Prince are after Afghanistan’s minerals. My question: Why, with the “Opiate Crisis” in America, aren’t American forces going after the opium (heroin) at its source? Afghanistan is the world’s largest growers of opium poppies. Who is in control of the drug industry? Jeremy Schill’s book, “Blackwater” touches on this topic, but it came out a decade or more ago. I would like to see an update.

      • dpaano says:

        So true…..much, if not most, of the opium in this country comes in from Afghanistan. The people there have learned that it’s more prosperous to grow opium than to do anything else! It would be good for us to go in and completely bomb all the opium fields that we can find and then maybe, just maybe, they might be willing to negotiate peace somehow. Plus, it would go a LONG way in curing our country’s own opiate problem!

    • dpaano says:

      No, he’ll blame it all on “his generals….” you KNOW he won’t ever take the blame when this fails.

  3. bobnstuff says:

    The Russians had 115,000 troops there and failed, Trump thinks 15,000 will do something. Peace can not be achieved by force of arms. Negotiations is the only solution but with Trump involved the people of Afghanistan is domed. Trump can’t bring peace to his own party.

  4. Norm Ell says:

    Bobnstuff, has stated what I knew for years. With all the troops the Russians had on the ground in Afghanistan they came to the realization it was an unwinnable war, packed their bags and went home. Why are we there, really? As a country we cannot afford to sacrifice our warfighters in an unwinnable war. We must bring them home to protect real American threats and not line the pockets of military weapons manufactures and DT’s businesses. This is nothing more than wealth building and distractions tactics for Trump to stay in office. Don’t fall for it. American warfighter lives are more valuable that this guy’s ego.

  5. stcroixcarp says:

    Afghanistan–Where empires go to die.

    • Independent1 says:

      Democrats and some Republicans agree:

      Trump’s Afghanistan Plan The “Definition of Insanity,” Say GOP and Democrat Congress Members

      Republican and Democrat legislators alike were left shaking their heads in disbelief at President Donald Trump’s plan to increase the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan this week, as anger grew over his lack of strategy to end the 16-year conflict.

      “We are so frustrated,” Walter Jones, a Republican House Representative from North Carolina tells Newsweek. “We are sitting right here, spending billions up to trillions of dollars, we have nothing to show for it.”

      Jones—together with his Democrat colleague, Representative John Garamendi, from Northern California—is pushing a bipartisan bill that proposes to defund the war to allow Congress to debate the future of the conflict.

      • dpaano says:

        Since the Congress basically holds the purse strings….they need to put a stop to Trump’s irresponsible spending of money on wars, vacations, etc. and tell him that they will NOT release any money to him for such stupid things as escalating the war in Afghanistan or building a wall that no one wants!! Some of these so-called “generals” that he listens to have never actually been in the war….they have sat behind big desks making plans for our young men and women. Those who HAVE actually fought know that sending more troops to Afghanistan is going to do NOTHING to stop this war….it’s a no-win situation! Also, you can’t always negotiate your way out of a war like this! Middle eastern people don’t actually know how to negotiate.

  6. 1standlastword says:

    This is all very disturbing that we’re now living in an era when politicians create serious problems and solve none

  7. stsintl says:

    Let’s ask the President how many of his loved ones and those of his cabinet ministers and voters are willing to serve in Afghanistan before we send our loved ones over there to be killed and maimed. Remember? None of the family members of GWB, Dick Cheney, Richard Perle, Donald Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, went to Afghanistan or Iraq.

  8. Richard Prescott says:

    When you have a President who knows nothing about real politics, thinks negotiating means he wins because he says so and has no clue about the military nor what it is like to serve. Well. You now have Afghanistan version 4.
    Dear Donald, you just might want to rethink your “wall policy” if you want to do what you think you can in Afghanistan. You will need a lot more money that you currently think you will.
    To fail.

  9. says:

    “Sometimes the financial flows are robust and other times they run dry.” It is this money from Iraq and Syria that pushes ISIS to conduct such operations as the suicide attack on the Iraqi Embassy in Kabul in late July. so how, were and why is Syria and Iraqi giving money to these terror groups in the first place ? thy have that kind of money hanging around while thy have their own wars going on ? Taliban ,ISIS and al-Qaeda’s fighting force what would happen if thy all joined together ? the DUMPSTER DONNY has nothing better to do but pardon people that are hateful racist bigots . all the time he knows he is teeing off so many people in the country and the child minded clown knows it and loves doing in

  10. Dominick Vila says:

    What Trump does not understand is that we cannot defeat an ideology, or change a culture, by force. We could deploy 100,000 or 500,000 troops in Afghanistan, and nothing will be achieved, other than reinforce the belief that infidels are determined to destroy the Islamic culture, and serve as a recruiting tool for those determined to fight the West. We cannot convince the indigenous population that the Taliban is evil, because they are the Taliban. To them, we are invaders from far away lands trying to deny them the right to live as they please. We are the enemy, and the more troops we deploy, the more convince they become that we are, indeed, their enemies. Extreme, ancient, ideologies are moderated with positive deeds, not death and destruction, and it often takes decades to achieve that goal. Then again, I doubt Trump is really interested in changing Afghanistan or anyone else. He is a desperate man, with dangerously low approval ratings, seeking a way to elicit support.

  11. says:

    when the Dumpster stays at one of his places dose he charge the government rent ??????/

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