Vernuccio’s View: What to Do About Afghanistan

The list of foreign and defense policy errors over the past eight years is lengthy and serious.  None was so clearly evident as the premature withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, a move which destabilized a nation on a slow path to stability, and allowed ISIS to grow into an international danger.

A similar situation is arising in Afghanistan.

In May of 2014, President Obama announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Providing advanced notice of a departure date was correctly seen as a major diplomatic and military blunder on the part of the White House.

While the Obama Administration stated that it supports the current government in Kabul, the fact that it opened talks with the Taliban in 2011 reduced credibility for that position.

In addition to the legal issues surrounding the White House’s decision to negotiate, very significant moral questions abound, as well as matters of diplomatic precedent.  Washington had, in the past, held to a wise policy of not negotiating with terrorists. To do so invited more acts of terror by groups and individuals who see those acts as a path to extorting demands from governments. The Obama Administration abandoned the precedent of not negotiating with terrorists, and did so without consulting Congress, or with much discussion with the American public.

By elevating the Taliban to the status of a negotiating partner, it gave that terrorist organization a very substantial boost in its bid to return to power after America withdraws. Insurgent bombings rose as U.S. troops reduced operations.

In July 2016, Obama modified his withdrawal stance, and decided to keep 8,400 U.S. service members in country through the end of his term.

Now, President Trump faces the difficult decision of whether to continue the withdrawal, or to take a different strategy of “surging” forces in an attempt to substantially defeat the Taliban and prevent their takeover after western forces withdraw.

According to the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan, “As of August 28, 2016, USFOR-A reported that only 63.4% of the country’s districts were under Afghan government control or influence, a reduction from the 72% percent as of November 27, 2015. Capability gaps in key areas such as intelligence, aviation, and logistics are improving, but still hinder effectiveness.”

Effectively diminishing the power of Islamic extremists would necessarily raise the difficult issue of pursuing it to its safe havens in Pakistan. According to the Pentagon in its latest Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan Report, “Although al Qaeda’s core leadership in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region has been degraded, elements continue to seek safe haven on both sides of the border to regenerate and conduct attack planning. The continued development of an al Qaeda affiliate in the region, al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), highlights the dynamic nature of the terrorist and militant landscape in the region, posing risks to the mission and to U.S. interests…Pakistan must play a role in reducing the threat from terrorist and militant groups in the region. Consistent mid-level military-to-military dialogue between Afghanistan and Pakistan on specific issues, such as the shared threat from IS-K, and occasional discussions at higher levels of the military and government early in the reporting period were encouraging. However, sustained Pakistani efforts to pressure the Haqqani Network and the Taliban and to disrupt active threat streams are necessary to help decrease violence in the region, to reduce the threat posed by these groups, and to achieve lasting progress on counterterrorism issues.”

Continuing the fight against the Taliban does not necessarily entail nation building, a policy President Trump does not favor.  It would involve direct military action aimed at destroying the Taliban, or at least reducing its power and influence to the point where the Kabul government can defend itself and expand its control over the entire country.

Frank V. Vernuccio, Jr., J.D.

Frank V. Vernuccio, Jr., J.D.

Frank V. Vernuccio, Jr., J.D. is the editor-in-chief of the New York Analysis of Policy & Government and the co-host of the popular WVOX weekly radio show, “And Nothing But The Truth.”



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