Victory in Afghanistan is Still Possible

By | 2017-06-02T18:30:05+00:00 June 17, 2017|
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When Americans suffer casualties, they run away from battle,” the high-ranking Taliban commander, Seif Galali, famously told an Al Jazeera interviewer in 2009, after U.S. forces withdrew from the Nuristan Province, due to fierce Taliban resistance.

Around that time, Marine Corps platoon leader Lieutenant Jake Kerr, would recount to the legendary military writer (who is also a retired Marine), Bing West, the travails of his platoon’s experience fighting in Afghanistan. He would detail how his Marines held a forward operating base in Kunar Province but, since the Marines weren’t allowed to venture out beyond the base—and since they were not given enough reinforcements (and USAID had cut off funds to their Afghan partners)—the Taliban would simply “go around” the Marines when attacking the Kunar Province.

“My platoon is fucking pissed off that we gave away the initiative.” Kerr told West.

Kerr’s sentiments would be shared by the majority of American forces fighting in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the Taliban have a saying: “The Americans have all of the watches, but we have all of the time.”

Meanwhile, the Taliban have a saying: “The Americans have all of the watches, but we have all of the time.”

And that’s really the nub of the whole war, isn’t it? When the United States and its allies invaded Afghanistan following the horrific 9/11 attacks, America had the initiative. U.S. forces destroyed the Afghans’ perception that theirs was the winning side. That was an important step for us toward victory. Alas, the opportunity it created was squandered when we assumed our side was too big to fail.

When Americans look at the Taliban or al Qaeda, we see cave dwellers living in squalor compared to our high-tech military prowess. Or, as an Army Ranger friend of mine once told me, “We look like men from Mars to the Afghans.” Meanwhile, they look like the Flintstones to us.

What we fail to recognize, however, is how the enemy’s belief system empowers them to stand against America’s fearsome military might. In fact, after 17 years of fighting against an American force that—considering its capacities—has been woefully under-resourced and horribly mismanaged by ignorant politicians in Washington, the jihadists in Afghanistan have regained their former false impression of superiority over their American foes.

When perceptions change in combat; when a pre-modern band of religious zealots now disbelieves that yours is the superior fighting force, their resistance quotient increases exponentially. Under such circumstances, groups like al Qaeda and the Taliban assume that their god is truly on their side. So now, the Taliban, al Qaeda, ISIS, and others affiliated jihadists are simply running out the clock on America’s forces. Why fight America’s comparatively heavy armed military if the jihadists can just psyche out our weak political leaders from afar?

When perceptions change in combat; when a pre-modern band of religious zealots now disbelieves that yours is the superior fighting force, their resistance quotient increases exponentially. Under such circumstances, groups like al Qaeda and the Taliban assume that their god is truly on their side.

We’ve heard this tale before. During the Civil War, the Confederates became convinced that, despite the numerical superiority of the Union forces, the Union was poorly led, and that its populace had little appetite for the kind of war that the South was willing to wage.

In Vietnam, the North Vietnamese kept telling themselves that, the greater levels of casualties they inflicted, the more the Americans would cut-and-run.

During both Desert Storm and the Iraq War in 2003, Saddam Hussein genuinely believed that he could inflict enough casualties that the Americans would repeat the Vietnam withdrawal experience.

In Vietnam and in Iraq in 2003, it was not the military that handed America a defeat, but rather, it was America’s pathetic politicians who did the deed. Conversely, in the case of the Civil War, it was presidential courage that allowed for the promotion of controversial men like Generals Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman into positions of authority. These men, possessed of fierce fighting abilities, visionary leadership, and an unrelenting desire for victory are the reasons why the North ultimately defeated its wayward Southern brethren.

Sheer brutality and a clear-eyed strategy for victory—coupled with political courage from the White House—allowed heroic and brutal men to wage the only kind of war America wins: a total unrestricted war that is committed to victory.

This is precisely the kind of political courage that President Trump must display now.

For the last 17 years in Afghanistan, we’ve lacked it. America went in to fight terrorists and ended up nation-building. Clearly, something in our strategy went awry. The problem was in America’s political leadership—the “Permanent Bipartisan Fusion Party.” Possessed of crippling political correctness, our leaders negated our military’s strengths and turned our warfighters into “armed humanitarians,” because the Bipartisan Fusion Party’s political correctness made them think that victory was immoral. Coincidentally, the jihadists also believe an American victory is immoral.

Sheer brutality and a clear-eyed strategy for victory—coupled with political courage from the White House—allowed heroic and brutal men to wage the only kind of war America wins: a total unrestricted war that is committed to victory.

As former Army Intelligence Lt. Col. Ralph Peters has written over the years, the initial strategy for the United States in Afghanistan was apt. The United States was striking back at those who attacked it on September 11, 2001. Due to force limitations (and the need for a swift response), the United States could only bring a small force to bear in the initial days of the war. The Bush Administration had to rely heavily on the Central Intelligence Agency’s paramilitary arm, since the Pentagon, after years of President Bill Clinton’s short-sighted talk of a “peace dividend,” was caught flat-footed by the 9/11 attacks.

In addition to the lack of preparation on the part of the military when it came to invading Afghanistan, there were also severe logistical limitations surrounding that invasion. Not wanting to accept these challenges as insurmountable, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld rightly pushed through serious expansions and reforms of America’s Special Forces, from which we are still the beneficiaries today. So, together with the CIA, special-operations teams inserted themselves into Afghanistan.

These groups quickly enmeshed themselves with larger, anti-Taliban and anti-al Qaeda indigenous forces, such as the Northern Alliance. Using satellites to link them with American and allied airpower just over-the-horizon, America cobbled together an effective punitive expedition. This expedition punished al Qaeda and ousted the Taliban from power in record time. By 2002, the war was mostly won. America should have declared victory and gone home, leaving behind a small counterterrorism force to ensure that those busted remnants of al Qaeda and the Taliban were kept at bay.

Yet, even as the Bush Administration was beginning to focus its efforts on invading Iraq, the United States opted to remain in Afghanistan and “nation-build.” This was our greatest error of that period. In splitting America’s limited forces between “mopping up” in Afghanistan and invading Iraq, we lost the initiative. Victory was no longer the main object. More damagingly, by keeping our forces engaged in Afghanistan but woefully restrained, America’s military lost its prestige in the eyes of those it was fighting. They were hamstrung.

In splitting America’s limited forces between “mopping up” in Afghanistan and invading Iraq, we lost the initiative. Victory was no longer the main object. More damagingly, by keeping our forces engaged in Afghanistan but woefully restrained, America’s military lost its prestige in the eyes of those it was fighting. They were hamstrung.

Meanwhile, American money has created a failed central government in Afghanistan that runs on corruption and aggravates the locals. It is likely that nothing better but, instead, something worse, would have emerged in our absence. But at least then it wouldn’t have come with our apparent seal of approval and made us the object of scorn. As Peter Tomsen wrote, the key to Afghanistan is not Kabul, but the tribes. Moving forward, America’s leaders must recognize and embrace this simple fact. There is no united Afghanistan. It is nearly impossible to try to create a united Afghanistan. It likely isn’t in our strategic interests to spend the next century trying to build a unified Afghanistan, either. What’s more, history proves that invaders who have tried to dominate a united Afghanistan do not succeed.

The whiff of corruption on the part of American-backed Afghan leaders and the taint of defeat surrounding our military strategy in Afghanistan has created a toxic brew, empowering our enemies and discouraging our allies. This toxic brew has created a self-fulfilling prophecy of Afghanistan being the place where the American “empire” went to die.

This is not a tenable situation. We cannot stay and “nation-build” in Afghanistan forever—especially not with America’s own economic situation remaining so precarious. Nevertheless, we have sacrificed many of our young men and women in Afghanistan. Is it moral to negate those sacrifices by giving up on victory there, simply because it’s expensive? I don’t think so. I think we should give Secretary of Defense James Mattis one more shot to try to resolve the outcome of this war in America’s favor. We owe it to those who’ve sacrificed everything in Afghanistan.

If Mattis cannot lead us to victory, I suspect that no one can, and then America should call it quits. Giving that war one more go isn’t going to be the thing that breaks America. A defeat just might, though.

This is not a tenable situation. We cannot stay and “nation-build” in Afghanistan forever—especially not with America’s own economic situation remaining so precarious. Nevertheless, we have sacrificed many of our young men and women in Afghanistan. Is it moral to negate those sacrifices by giving up on victory there, simply because it’s expensive?

Recently, Secretary of Defense Mattis testified to Congress that America was losing in Afghanistan but that he planned on remedying this fact. Earlier this week, Mattis was given unprecedented control over the war in Afghanistan by the President. This, after an uptick in U.S. military engagements with jihadist forces in Afghanistan—notably those of ISIS. The decision to grant Mattis the kind of autonomy that every American military leader dreams of is akin to Lincoln’s decision to trust Grant. In the coming days and weeks, we will see an increase in U.S. forces in Afghanistan. But, it will be unlike anything that we’ve seen heretofore in the nearly-20-year-long war.

The military—especially the Marines—will be allowed not only to fight, but to win. What’s more, they will be granted permission to use any and all means to win. This is exemplified by the recent use of the all-powerful “Mother of All Bombs” against an ISIS-K stronghold in Afghanistan. Neither Bush nor Obama would have ever approved the use of such weapons—even against an ISIS stronghold, removed from civilian populations.

We must not forget that all warfare is ultimately political in nature—or politics by other means. Therefore, even a return to classical concepts of American warfare will be insufficient to achieve ultimate victory in Afghanistan. Thus, it is essential to recognize some key points going forward.

The decision to grant Mattis the kind of autonomy that every American military leader dreams of is akin to Lincoln’s decision to trust Grant. In the coming days and weeks, we will see an increase in U.S. forces in Afghanistan. But, it will be unlike anything that we’ve seen heretofore in the nearly-20-year-long war.

First, the revitalization of America’s military posture in Afghanistan will bust the jihadists’ perception that time is on their side. This will generate much-needed momentum for America’s forces. The momentum will prompt many fence-sitting Afghan tribal leaders to come back to America’s side.

Second, the key to victory rests in the tribes, not in Kabul.

Third, Afghanistan has become a geopolitical hot potato, with China, Russia, Pakistan, and Iran all taking greater roles in the country. By crafting policies aimed at either compelling them to assist in ending the war in America’s favor or by neutering their clients in the country, the United States can secure a geopolitical, as well as a military victory.

Fourth, since the ethno-religious tribes are the key, we will need to recognize that the Taliban will likely require negotiation, since, as Michael Scheurer points out, the Taliban is effectively a Pashtun independence movement. And, to be sure, the Pashtun are not going anywhere. But, by empowering the tribes over the central government in Kabul, we can at least mitigate the Taliban’s political reach.

Fifth, America must plan to leave counterterrorism forces behind in Afghanistan indefinitely, to ensure that it does not become a bastion of jihadism yet again.

The Trump Administration must keep this in mind and begin fashioning its diplomatic strategy to comport with what will likely be an expansion of its military policy in Afghanistan. The War in Afghanistan is totally winnable. All victory will require is for President Trump to allow for America’s fighting men and women to use every means at their disposal to accomplish their mission. Further, we need to recognize that an American victory in Afghanistan will look unlike anything we’ve experienced historically, but it will be a victory, nonetheless.

Consistent military victories will rejuvenate America’s image in Afghanistan. We will return to the status of being the stronger tribe. Once that happens, real headway can be made in ending America’s commitment there.

The Trump Administration, however, must keep the American political establishment out of the management of the campaign, and it must be willing to support the war effort in a way that neither the Bush nor Obama Administrations were willing to do. Brutality of the sort unseen in many decades will be essential to send a clear and unmistakable message to our enemies that America is playing for keeps. After all, victory goes neither to the swift nor to the strong. Instead it goes to to he that endureth.  

The Trump Administration, however, must keep the American political establishment out of the management of the campaign, and it must be willing to support the war effort in a way that neither the Bush nor Obama Administrations were willing to do.

Time will tell if President Trump has the political courage to maintain this posture in the way that Lincoln did during the Civil War. I think that Trump does. But if he does not have any intention of doing what must be done in order to have a chance at winning, then Trump should end America’s commitment immediately. There is nothing more immoral than doing what former President Obama did in Afghanistan: throw young American servicemen and women into a war, tie their hands behind their backs, all the meanwhile having no intention of winning the war you were asking them to fight. Obama, fearful of being blamed for having lost the war, fought it half-heartedly. This was worse than simply walking away.

If the war in Afghanistan is to be won, it is only the unorthodox leadership of President Trump that will deliver such a necessary victory. And, victory in Afghanistan is, above all things,  necessary.

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About the Author:

Brandon J. Weichert
Brandon J. Weichert is a contributing editor to American Greatness. A former Republican Congressional staffer and national security expert, he also runs The Weichert Report, www.theweichertreport.com, an online journal of geopolitics. He holds Master's degree in Statecraft & National Security from the Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C. He is also an Associate Member of New College at Oxford University and holds a B.A. in Political Science from DePaul University. He is currently completing a book on national security space policy due out next year.
  • D4x

    Must read – every source on Afghanistan cites this anthropological history of the Pashtuns (once called Pathans). I read it twice, in 2003, and 2010, because most college libraries have a copy. “The Pathans, 550 B. C. A. D. 1957 by Olaf Caroe The Pathans, 550 B. C. A. D. 1957 4.24 rating This is an authoritative work on the social and political history of the Pathans, from 550 BC to AD 1957. It includes an epilogue written, just before the author’s death, in the light of recent events in Afghanistan”

    .

    http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/392583.The_Pathans_550_B_C_A_D_1957

    By reading it twice, I realized the shooting of Malala Yousefzvai in Swat was a longtime blood feud between the Mehsud Pashtuns in Waziristan, and the Yousefzvai Pashtuns of Swat (who had won Swat in a series of bloody wars)

    PM Ghani is from a small tribe known for being fair arbiters.

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  • 1. Comparing the war in Afghanistan to the American Civil War is somewhat misleading. I highly doubt Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address is a model for political reconciliation in Afghanistan for the obvious reason that Afghanis are not American Christian Southerners. Brutality in war was effective against Southern Christians because Southern Christians are Southern Christians. People who think it’s normal to cut off their enemy’s heads and throw acid at school girls might be far less prone to buckle under “brutality” and must simply be annihilated quickly.

    2. I agree with point three and would hope that a durable geopolitical solution can be found. This is an area in which very LITTLE intellectual work has been done in contrast to the area of warfare as such. In fact, all of the brutality you can muster will remain ineffective if this intellectual work is not done.

    3. Naturally I could not help but think of US support for radical Islamists in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union…what a mess.

    4. Likewise reading this article reminded me of the haunting Afghan War Memorial I saw in Minsk

    In any event, the President will have to deal effectively with Afghanistan, this is true… We await results. I admit my faith in American ability to solve geopolitical problems is very low nowadays.

    • D4x

      The USA intended to only supply the Northern Alliance, under Ahmad Shah Massoud, with weapons against the Soviet forces. They were not radical Islamists. Bin Laden ordered the assassination of Massoud, remember Sept 9, 2001? It was his Northern Alliance trying to oust the Taliban.

      Even if we also supplied Pashtuns, at the time, they were not radicalized – the Taliban emerged from Pakistani Pashtuns in 1994, during the Afghan civil war after the Soviets withdrew in 1992.

      Of course, the USA+Saudi funds went thru Pakistan, so USA is partly to blame, but not intentionally. Might as well blame the British for intentionally dividing the Pashtuns in 1896 with the porous border, the Durand Line.

      That is my choppy synopsis of a very complex history!

      • Yes, complex indeed. And demonstrative of the ease with which Empires have meddled there fruitlessly. It is all bad from all angles – foreign intervention coupled with periodic internal strife. In any event we must have limited and realistic goals there, related primarily to the liquidation of threats. Very little hope for doing anything beyond that. Secretary Mattis can no doubt win battlefield victories, but I note very few people seem to have viable geopolitical solutions to offer because there seem to be no good ones…

        • D4x

          Until the Afghan forces have their own medevac, and some kind of air support without US SpecOps calling in, it is difficult to see a path to stability. Guess we have to wait a bit for SecMattis’ strategy.
          1979 was a really terrible year for geopolitics. Iran and Afghanistan continue to disrupt too much.

  • Jim Mulry

    The American armed forces are the best in the world. Before escalating in Afghanistan, the American administration should conduct careful feasibility analysis and make an educated decision to determine if earning the victory is worth the investment. America still has limited military resources. With the emerging threats in North Korea, Iran, and the Philippines, does a surge in Afghanistan bring the USA the best return on investment? I don’t know!

    • BCML

      I dispute your claim that American arms forces are the best in the world. Victory cannot be won in Afghanistan. We should leave, and make a policy of staying out of other countries. Since WWII we have largely screwed up everything we have touched.

  • VXXC2014

    No and it never was until DC is razed and depopulated as East Prussia was…

    You had your chance with me and my brothers. Every time we were caught doing the necessary you were silent.
    You led us on and sat in judgement of our wrongs.
    Moreover your entire town is taking money from our enemies.
    You fund the Pakistani’s who pay for our deaths in exchange for the usual customary kickback.

    With DC no victory is possible anywhere as you profit from both sides of the conflict you perpetuate endlessly as a stream of income without any consequences for open treason-as a business.

    With DC no Victory is possible. With Victory of the Americans over DC no Victory is necessary anywhere else.

  • R.L.

    The last time America entered a war to win it was World War II. Roosevelt had Congress declare that a state of war existed since December 7th etc etc.

    Every war since then has been either a NATO lash up, or a war only participated in by the political party then in power. Our enemies have learned that we do not have the will to suffer casualties, and frankly I agree wit them.

    Unless the government commits to total war with unconditional surrender of the enemy as the only acceptable outcome, we will never win another war again. We will tire of it and decided to go shopping instead.

    The entire country needs to be involved. We need a draft to draft all women and men who have attained the age of eighteen. No deferments. Then we need a congress declare that a state of war exists. Without that we cannot win.

    Leftists who never go to war, will always demonstrate against it, and even work to undermine our efforts (think Vietnam). A public that is not committed with their own blood and treasure will not support any war.

    If we cannot commit to total war, with the victory being defined as unconditional surrender by the enemy, then we should avoid that war at all costs. Half-assed wars only kill the finest of our youth. Nothing more.

  • Marshall Gill

    What exactly do you think “winning” would look like? Even if you killed every single Afghan, it isn’t some strange magic which drives them and finances them.The Pashtun goat heard is no threat to Americans, by himself. There IS a Mohammadean State which remains a threat to Americans, and might fund his trip to the West and make him into a threat, but it isn’t Afghanistan. You didn’t even mention their names in the article.

    Fight a perpetual war against the pawns of international Jihadism while selling the puppet masters hundreds of billions of dollars of military equipment?!

    This article is the equivalent of how America could win WW II by defeating Italy.

  • ek ErilaR

    And what, exactly, would victory in Afghanistan look like?

    The Taliban is not ISIS but the Taliban does have the weight of popular support in Afghanistan and the Taliban is no more likely than ISIS to adopt the full spectrum of progressive EU/US State Department approved political and social programs that “victory” demands.

    Do you imagine a democratically elected Afghanistan legislature with 50% women and 10% openly gay legislators enacting speech codes and dis-establishing Islam?

    Get you stupid head out of your a$$,

  • JamesDrouin

    “Victory in Afghanistan is Still Possible”

    Sheer delusion. There is no doubt that the ROEs have had an enormous negative effect on the war there, but when has that NOT been the case in any armed conflict???

    Here’s the fundamental truth:

    The US could maintain a military presence in Afghanistan for the next 500 years and give the military complete freedom of action to employ whatever tactics or weapons they deem necessary, and all the US would have to show for it would be a really, really, really long casualty list and tens or hundreds of trillions of dollars of wasted taxpayer funds.

    Get the flvck out, now, today.