In order to achieve a lasting peace in Afghanistan, the United States needs to keep waging its longest-ever war there. That's the encapsulated conclusion of a report published Wednesday by the Afghanistan Study Group, a congressionally mandated task force that is recommending the Biden administration keep U.S. troops in the war-torn nation beyond the May 1 deadline set under former President Donald Trump.
"Military officials agree there is no military solution, so keeping a few thousand U.S. troops in the country... makes no sense strategically."
Institute for Policy Studies
According to the study group—a 15-member bipartisan panel led by former Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, and former United States Institute for Peace CEO Nancy Lindborg—the Taliban has not met the prerequisite conditions for the withdrawal of the remaining 2,500 U.S. troops in the country.
"The study group... believes that it will be very difficult, and perhaps impossible, for those conditions to be achieved by May 2021," the report states. "Achieving the overall objective of a negotiated stable peace that meets U.S. interests would need to begin with securing an extension of the May deadline."
The conditions, established during the talks that led to the February 2020 Doha agreement between the Trump administration and the Taliban, include reducing violence, severing ties with al-Qaeda militants, and engaging in intra-Afghan talks. Under the agreement, the U.S. committed (pdf) to reducing the number of forces in Afghanistan from 13,000 to 8,600 within 135 days, with a complete withdrawal within 14 months.
Download the Study Group's report here: https://t.co/BwQwbZ0ksh
— U.S. Institute of Peace (@USIP) February 3, 2021
However, "complete withdrawal" is a misnomer, says Phyllis Bennis, director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
"No one is talking about withdrawing the U.S. bombers and drones that are responsible for so much civilian suffering," Bennis told Common Dreams. "By calling them 'counter-terrorism operations,' it seems those airstrikes and drone attacks are completely off the withdrawal agenda."
The 2,500 U.S. troops Trump left in Afghanistan just before President Joe Biden took office were the fewest that have been there since the United States invaded Afghanistan in retaliation for the then-ruling Taliban's harboring of Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda militants who attacked the U.S. on September 11, 2001. At the peak of former President Barack Obama's "Afghan surge" in 2011, there were over 100,000 U.S. troops in the country.
The war, currently in its 20th year, is now a multi-generational conflict for both the Afghan civilians who endure its terrors and those who inflict them. That includes Afghan government forces, Taliban and other militants, and U.S. and allied troops—some of whose parents also fought there.
The Afghanistan Study Group report is out, and its pretty much what you would expect from a group co-chaired by Kelly Ayotte & Gen. Joe Dunford. For example, this recommendation is a practical guarantee that U.S. troops will be in Afghanistan until the sun explodes. pic.twitter.com/SddTH7uJJ8
— Daniel DePetris (@DanDePetris) February 3, 2021
The cost in blood and treasure has been tremendous. More than 100,000 Afghans civilians were killed by all sides in the years 2010-2020 alone, according to the United Nations. Taliban militants have killed the most noncombatants, but thousands of men, women, and children have also been killed by U.S., coalition, and Afghan government bombs and bullets. The Trump administration's 2017 decision to loosen military rules of engagement meant to protect noncombatants was followed by a 330% surge in civilian deaths since the end of the Obama administration, according to the Brown University Watson Institute's Costs of War Project.
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Millions of Afghans have also been displaced by the decades of fighting.
The total U.S. price tag for the war is estimated at over $1.5 trillion, with hundreds of billions of dollars more spent on reconstruction, economic development, training and equipping Afghan security forces, and counternarcotics operations.
"Billions were spent to prolong the war, enabling vast profits for military contractors, various warlords, and mafiosa-style groups that often gained control over foreign funds."
However, critics say that after all that war, the U.S. cannot buy peace in Afghanistan. That, says U.S. peace activist Kathy Kelly, "will require finding jobs and incomes for desperate people [and] also require finding ways to greatly reduce the power of various warlords who have profited through prolonged warfare."
"It's important to reckon with the reality that billions were spent to prolong the war, enabling vast profits for military contractors, various warlords, and mafiosa-style groups that often gained control over foreign funds," Kelly told Common Dreams. "Equivalent sums should be directed toward reparations that would enable Afghanistan to rehabilitate its agricultural infrastructure and provide work and income for people."
"Young Afghan friends regularly tell me that they can't find work unless they are willing to work for a military group," Kelly added.
While progress has been made in Afghan civil society and other areas, the Afghan government remains one of the world's most corrupt, and Afghan military and police forces are plagued by human rights violations, while remaining incapable of defeating the Taliban and other insurgents.
In recent days and weeks, reports of widespread torture (pdf) in Afghan prisons and of U.S.-backed military death squads underscore the yawning chasm between the U.S. government's vision for Afghanistan and the stark reality there—a reality for which there is no military solution.
Torture allegations remain at high levels by security or terrorism-related detainees in #Afghanistan detention. Some progress but much more needs to be done to meet Afghan and int’l law requirements. Read latest UN report: https://t.co/MRrjGDBmJP pic.twitter.com/QJAfGcm7Jt
— UNAMA News (@UNAMAnews) February 3, 2021
"U.S. troops weren't able to protect Afghans or prevent Taliban attacks when they were deployed in the tens of thousands—they just caused more casualties with their own actions," said Bennis. "Military officials agree there is no military solution, so keeping a few thousand U.S. troops in the country... makes no sense strategically."
Stephen Miles, executive director of the peace advocacy group Win Without War, agrees.
"The word for spending another minute trying to 'win' on the battlefield after the last two decades isn't 'logic,' it's absurdity."
Win Without War
"The word for spending another minute trying to 'win' on the battlefield after the last two decades isn't 'logic'—it's absurdity," Miles told Common Dreams via email. "In a situation where everyone agrees that the challenges we face do not have military solutions, only in Washington can the solution be to keep using the U.S. military."
"The future of Afghanistan must be up to Afghans," he added, "and while the United States has a moral obligation to help rebuild what we've spent decades breaking, the Biden administration should also listen to the U.S. public that has been crystal clear that they want the United States' longest war to finally and fully end."