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Trump's Gamble On Afghanistan: What It Means

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Trump's Gamble On Afghanistan: What It Means

(Editor’s note: The author covered the Afghanistan war for The Associated Press in 2003)

President Donald Trump asked Americans to support his decision to put more U.S. troops in the rugged terrain of Afghanistan, perhaps staking his imperiled presidency on bringing peace to a place that has rarely experienced it.

The 16-year-old war began when President George W. Bush dispatched huge forces to topple the darkly repressive Taliban regime in 2001. It was payback for harboring Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda terrorists, who carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

Bush tried to rebuild the Texas-sized place of 33 million people by revamping the national army and disarming a dizzying collection of warlord militias. He did not succeed. President Barack Obama put even more troops there, but began drawing them down as casualties mounted.

The Very Definition Of Quagmire

Since then, the war has become the longest in U.S. history, nearly as long as the Civil War, World War II and the Vietnam War combined. There have been approximately 2,400 U.S. military deaths and nearly 1,200 losses among civilian contractors. More than 20,000 U.S. troops have been wounded, many from blown-off limbs.

After hearing the options from his hawkish national security team, Trump addressed the nation Monday night and said he would plunge more deeply into this seemingly unending war, adding to the 8,000 troops already deployed. He has the authority to add nearly 4,000 additional troops.

The rationale for a heightened troop presence is that allowing the fighting to continue and the elected government to fall would turn the country into a redoubt for terrorists. The reasoning for a complete pullout? The country is ungovernable, a failed state overridden with corruption.

Afghanistan’s Location Made It Prone To Centuries Of War

Bounded by China, Iran, Pakistan and three former Soviet republics (Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan) Afghanistan’s prime location between Asia and the Middle East has made it a perpetual battleground by empires dating back to the dawn of civilization.

From the Macedonian Empire of Alexander the Great to the British Empire at the turn of the 20th Century to the failed Soviet occupation of the Cold War, the native Afghans have fought off outside rule when not skirmishing among themselves.

Periods of stability existed only when the country was ruled by monarchs or dictators. It is as unstable as any place on the planet.

Rugged Terrain Treacherous

When I covered the U.S. occupation for The Associated Press, I traveled in South Khanadar Province with a pro-U.S. militia hunting for Taliban guerrillas who had filtered back into the country after being driven into Pakistan.

They were incredulous and defiant about the NATO-backed rebuilding plan that required them to turn in their guns, which Afghan men learn how to use not long after they learn how to walk.

The rocky, arid terrain with deep rutted roads and gigantic rock formations, seem designed by nature for guerrilla ambushes. In fact, just two days after I parted ways with the militia in South Kandahar, Taliban guerrillas waylaid the convoy, killing 20 of the 220 members.

Trump’s Moves A Turnabout

Though it is technically a democratically elected government thanks to the NATO presence, there are parts of the country, particularly the mountains bordering Pakistan, that the regular army dares not enter. U.S. officials say the war is at a stalemate.

Trump’s approval ratings are at a historic low. He’s coming off another bad week, when members of his own party castigated him for seeking to equate counter-demonstrators with the neo-Nazis that clashed on Aug. 14 in Charlottesville, Virginia.

As a candidate, he argued that the United States should leave Afghanistan.

But embattled leaders often seek the diversion of war to take the media spotlight off troubles at home. Such support is short-lived, though, waning when the U.S. service personnel sent abroad starts returning home.

In body bags.

Related link:

Is Trump’s Foreign Policy Belligerence A Diversion From A Stalled Agenda?

Photo credit: Emily Elconin

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